The COVID-19 pandemic transformed our lives and forced us to change almost every part of our daily routines, including our media consumption habits. The lockdowns, the hunger for information and entertainment and the transition to remote work has affected our relationships with newspapers, radio, television and streaming services.
Communications professionals would be wise to track these trends in media consumption as they consider the best content, formats and platforms to reach and engage their audiences.
Newspapers across the country were already in a state of decline when the pandemic hit and made things even harder for publishers and distributors of newsprint. The largest ten weekday newspapers in the U.S. experienced an average drop in circulation of 20% between Q1 2020 and Q3 2020, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
But while subscriptions and sales of print editions of newspapers faltered, digital subscriptions skyrocketed. The New York Times reported that it added 2.3 million digital-only subscriptions in 2020, setting a record for the news organization. The Washington Post experienced a 50% year-over-year growth in digital subscriptions in 2020, ending the year with close to 3 million digital subscribers.
This trend is likely to continue, with readers digesting newspaper content on laptops, tablets and smartphones. Also, the need to serve readers on digital and mobile devices can influence story and ad treatment, placement and length or size; require more graphics and images, including videos; and affect other aspects of how information is communicated.
“The lockdowns, the hunger for information and entertainment, and the transition to remote work has affected our relationships with newspapers, radio, television and streaming services.”
According to a pre-COVID study, over half of daily radio listeners tune in only while driving. It’s no surprise then that when lockdowns began, listenership dropped dramatically – by approximately 28% – as people worked from home.
As more restrictions are lifted, and many workers return to offices, listenership has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. Nielsen reported that as of October 2020, the weekly reach of radio was 97% of what it was in March 2020.
Radio offers an important platform that relies on the human ear. So tailor your approach to fit the needs of radio and determine, for example, whether a station’s format favors quick sound bites or might be open to a longer interview. Be sure to pay close attention to how you describe your company’s position, product or service so that it can be quickly and clearly understood by a listener.
In March 2020, TV viewership spiked as stay-at-home restrictions began to be implemented across the country. Since then, viewership of traditional television programming has begun to taper off even though the demand for news and entertainment has grown exponentially.
News remains vital in a 24/7 world and your company’s major announcements can still find a home on a wide range of TV news and information programs. Entertainment programs that cater to specific interests and niche audiences also offer important opportunities for companies to promote their brands.
Compared to other mediums, streaming video and audio services saw the greatest amount of growth during the pandemic with companies like Netflix and Spotify seeing marked subscription increases.
Other data shows the importance of streaming services in media consumption:
- In Q2 2020, the cumulative weekly time spent watching streaming video was 42.5 billion minutes, an increase of nearly 75% from the 81.7 billion minutes in Q2 2019.
- During the pandemic, nearly one quarter of U.S. consumers subscribed to at least one new paid streaming video service.
- Streaming audio consumption increased by 39% between May 2020 and January 2021.
With this spectacular rise in streaming services, communications professionals have to think strategically and creatively about how to work with producers of content that might appear on these platforms. For instance, product placements are often seen in some popular entertainment programs on streaming services.
Of special note, consumers are more comfortable consuming all forms of content on their mobile devices. According to Nielsen, people are spending almost one-third more time on their smartphones and tablets, continuing a pre-pandemic shift to media consumption on mobile devices. In 2019, Nielsen found that consumers spent almost four hours viewing media on their mobile devices compared to just two-and-a-half hours in 2018.
The pandemic has radically changed our lives and our media consumption. Overall, audiences have adopted new habits that are likely here to stay, with an increased demand for news and entertainment. This presents new opportunities for brands that have survived or opened during the pandemic. Communications professionals should keep these considerations in mind as they think about informing and engaging target audiences with a range of versatile content that is, above all, mobile-device-friendly.