The Effects of COVID-19 on Media Consumption


It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has changed the way people live. Routines have been adjusted, new norms are being created, and behaviors surrounding the way we consume media have shifted. With millions of people being confined to their homes due to stay-at-home orders, many have found new ways to stay connected and informed. As many states begin to reopen, media consumption will likely continue to evolve.

The Global Web Index reported that since the start of the outbreak, over 80% of Americans have increased the amount of content they consume on a daily basis. With more time on their hands, it seems that people are finding ways to stay entertained. Unsurprisingly, television and online videos are the primary channels being used across all generations.

With this new shift in everyday life, you may wonder how the pandemic has affected media consumption habits across various channels.

Digital Visits Have Increased Across Specific Categories

With COVID-19 being the number one topic people are searching for online, it is no surprise that news sites have seen a jump in traffic. According to Comscore, the average minutes spent on news sites increased by 46%, compared to the same period last year. As updates about the virus vary by state and city, local news sites have seen the highest jump in visits, increasing 89% from February to March 2020.

However, the biggest jump in site visits has been seen across government and health sites like the CDC, WHO and NIH. Combined, the three government sites saw an increase of 299% from February to March. This jump in traffic can be attributed to increased interest about the Coronavirus.

With kids staying home from school, parents are finding ways to keep them occupied. Site visits to family and youth category sites also saw an increase, with a jump of 115% from February to March.

As many travel plans got canceled or put on hold due to the virus, it’s no surprise that the one industry that saw declines in traffic was the travel industry. Visits across all travel sites decreased 34% between February to March. With many states still having restrictions or travel bands, travel sites may not see an increase of traffic for some time.

People Are Turning to Social Media To Get Their News

As lockdowns began and people were told to stay at home, more and more people turned to social media to stay connected and informed. During Mid-March, when most stay-at-home orders started to take effect, social media saw a 16% increase in usage compared to the month before. In total, the week of March 16-22 saw 11.6 billion visits to social media content, the most there had been so far in 2020.

Aside from news sites, social media sites are where people go to get their news content. During March, local news engagement among various social media sites increased. Twitter saw engagement jump 196%, YouTube saw an increase of 62% and Facebook saw an increase of 15%. Although Facebook saw less of an increase in engagement, according to a study done by Flixed, Facebook remains the leader in news distribution among other social platforms, with over 35% of survey responders saying they used Facebook for COVID-19 news, compared to only 17% who use Twitter.

Consumer’s aren’t the only ones changing their habits when it comes to social media. Brand behavior has also changed. While companies in most industries have decreased their messaging during COVID-19, the entertainment/media industry and the healthcare industry have actually increased messaging. Media/Entertainment brands increased their posts per day an average of 8.9% during April and the healthcare brands increased messaging by 5.3%. Additionally, these two industries have also seen the most increase when it comes to consumer engagement, probably because these are two subjects that are in everyone’s minds during this time.

People Are Looking For Uplifting Videos Online

As media habits change, video consumption has been very strong. YouTube remains one of the top sites for online video content. Since the stay-at-home orders started, YouTube saw a 15.3% increase in usage. In comparison to other channels, consumers go to YouTube to watch uplifting content vs COVID-19 content. In a study done by Channel Factory, only 33% of respondents listed COVID-19 updates as their reason for using YouTube. Almost 50% of respondents listed entertainment and comedy as the main content they are watching on YouTube. Other content included music, cooking and DIY videos.

The study also looked at consumer’s perception of advertisement around content. Over 70% of those surveyed said they want to see ads that help boost their mood or that align with mood of the content they are watching.

TV Viewership Has Increased, Across Both Linear and OTT

With people spending more time at home, it’s not surprising that more people are tuning in to watch TV. During the beginning of the pandemic, news sites have been seeing an increase of viewership, specifically local news stations. The top 25 local markets saw an increased average of 11% in daily viewing for the local news. This increase is, in part due to COVID-19 content being broadcasted among various news networks. During the month of March, Americans viewed over 18 million hours of COVID-19 related content.

Financial cable networks and broadcast networks also saw a significant increase in viewership since the start of the pandemic. Financial networks say an increase of 78% vs the month prior, and the big four broadcasting networks saw an increase of almost 13% vs the month prior. Across all networks, daytime and early fringe viewing have seen the highest increase out of any day part.

Among those tuning into watch TV are the younger demographic. Among adults 18-34, there was an increase of 38% who started watching more news during the outbreak. This is a larger increase vs those 50+, who only saw a 29% increase for the age group. Additionally, Hispanics and Asian households has the highest increase in news viewing (42% and 62%, respectively) than any other ethnicity.

Streaming and binge watching has always been a popular activity among Americans, but that activity has increased even more so during the quarantine. According to Nielsen, streaming time grew by 22% to 156.1 billion minutes per day in March. Additionally, during the week of March 16, paid subscriptions of streaming services increased by 32%. Along with an increase in paid subscription, the amount of time consumers spent watching streamed content increased, 24% on CTV and 16% on streaming devices.

Of these services, what are consumers using the most? It seems that Netflix is the leader in streaming services at this moment, with people spending 29% of total streaming minutes on the platform. YouTube’s streaming minutes are only 20%, followed by Hulu at 10% and Amazon at 9% of streaming minutes.

As more people isolate to their homes, there is no doubt that OTT will usage will continue to grow. As for linear TV, with no clear date in sight of when sports will come back, viewership is relied upon news sites to keep it relevant.

Understanding Media Habits and Your Campaigns

With the changing habits around media consumption, it’s important to understand the effects these changes can have on your brand. As the situation around COVID-19 remains uncertain, so do the challenges campaigns may face. Brands need to reach consumers where they spend their time. Understanding these behaviors is therefore essential. With these insights, brands can start to make a plan of action on how to target their audiences and the best channels to target them through.

Audience behavior and the way they consume media will continue to change over the course of the pandemic, so it is important to keep reviewing and reprioritizing your brand strategy throughout the rest of the year.

With our real-world insights into consumer behaviors and patterns, Medicx is able to provide your brand with effective campaign strategy and targeting during these uncertain times.

Contact Medicx to see how our solutions can help you on your next campaign. Contact us today.