Boy, has 2020 been a year – and it’s only March. Many of us are still trying to wrap our heads around everything that has been going on in current events lately. Recently, the most talked about topic is the global coronavirus pandemic that is having a cascading effect across nearly all industries, the digital space included. Priding ourselves on remaining up-to-date on the latest trends in the industry, this unprecedented time is particularly intriguing for our team at Digital Remedy. With guaranteed volatility in store, we look forward to navigating the uncharted digital waters ahead. In order to understand the impact COVID-19 is having in the digital space, it’s important to take stock of the bigger picture; how we got to this point and what factors are playing a role during this transformative period.
The growing concern regarding the virus is permeating nearly every aspect of society and forcing people across the world to revise daily routines. In just the last few days, mass gatherings have been prohibited, professional sports leagues have suspended entire seasons, airline bookings have plummeted as a result of strict new travel restrictions, schools have begun switching to online-only classes, and companies have scrambled to streamline operations for remote work. Not to mention, the stock market has been an emotional roller coaster and people everywhere have swiftly been assimilating to home quarantine and practicing social distancing in an effort to “flatten the curve.” As I write this, the top trending hashtag on Twitter is #QuarantineLife, while last week’s was #CancelEverything, supporting the push to cancel all major events and shows in an effort to decrease the spread of the virus. While health concerns are by far the most important priority, it will be interesting to see the change in the dynamics of how consumers are spending their time with media during their increased time at home.
The Quarantine Effect
A coronavirus quarantine, voluntary or mandated, is not easy. It may be a minimum of two weeks of house arrest for an illness you may not have symptoms for, or even have altogether—hopefully, you’ll never get. New additions to the “work from home” population (which made up about 3.6%-5.4% of the U.S. workforce in 20181) are facing challenges with the new arrangement including social isolation, decrease in overall body movement and steps, and technological difficulties with remote meetings. However, it’s also introduced some benefits, such as the ability to make judgment-free fashion choices, significant cuts in commute time (now only having to move between your bed and desk), and, for some, more quality time with pets, an unexpected upside that could help alleviate growing anxieties. Companies with operations tied to out-of-home activity are most affected by this shift in avoiding public human interactions, while a handful of businesses, including ones in home entertainment or food delivery, may even be helped by the health scare. Stay-at-home stocks like, Netflix, Amazon, Slack, Facebook, and Peloton, have seen a bump as usage increases.
The COVID-19 Impact on Streaming
The allure of an almost infinite amount of programming available at our fingertips through streaming services during this time might seem both equally appealing and dangerous (from a productivity standpoint) to the growing number of employees working from home – especially among those looking for a distraction from the apocalyptic style news headlines, confined quarters, and “Hunger Games-esque” quest for toilet paper. The great thing about OTT/CTV is that there’s different programming for every mood (which I’m sure we will all be feeling by the end of this full week of quarantine). Streaming services appear to be the current ideal source for entertainment and are bound to benefit from this increased amount of time at home.
From an advertising perspective, this could be a huge opportunity. Streamers don’t have fixed schedules, so delays in show production leave no obvious holes to patch up. It’s worth noting that, since some services, like Netflix, are subscription-based, meaning revenue doesn’t rise with viewership. It technically doesn’t matter how much content we are watching because Netflix makes its money off of the monthly fees we pay. Netflix’s international subscriptions and revenue growth are increasingly at risk as COVID-19 spreads because streaming is a luxury at a time when paychecks may have stopped for many of its subscribers. Preliminary stats are starting to roll out, showing the growing interest in TV content among consumers.
- According to Nielsen, Americans stand to watch as much as 60% more television now that increasingly strict coronavirus-related lockdowns and shutdowns are in place in cities around the country
- 21% of people who signed up for streaming services since the beginning of this year said coronavirus was at least part of the reason they signed up2
- Over 4 in 10 adults are more likely to stream movies and TV due to COVID-192
- According to Google, searches for “movies to watch during coronavirus” have increased +900% in the past week in the U.S.
What About Movies?
The TV and film industries heavily rely on their physical operations to produce output. Movie studios have canceled film premieres, delayed productions, and pushed back release dates for films including “No Time to Die,” “Mulan,” and “A Quiet Place Part II” worldwide. Movie theaters that have stayed open have reduced capacity by 50% to allow for spacing between seating. Last weekend’s domestic ticket sales totaled about $55.3 million, the worst period for movie theaters in two decades, according to Comscore. If the outbreak continues and theaters are shut down for longer periods of time, studios may be forced to consider putting releases out through premium video on demand. In fact, Disney decided to bring Frozen 2 to its Disney+ streaming service three months early “surprising families with some fun and joy during this challenging period” this past weekend. NBCUniversal’s recent movie releases including “The Invisible Man”, “The Hunt”, and “Emma” will be available to rent at home as soon as Friday while the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” will be available in-home on April 10, the same day it is scheduled to be released in theaters. Major movie distributors normally adhere to 90-day grace period between films being released in theaters and their availability via on-demand platforms, this “straight-to-streaming” switch from the norm might change the way films are released moving forward.
Sports Get Hit Hard
One of the biggest TV sectors affected is sports. The cancellation and postponement of seasons and games have cost millions in lost ad revenues. The rapid cancellations, which began last Wednesday night, have left networks and marketers reeling, scrambling to determine what happens to their sports-related TV ad buys and trying to fill in unexpected gaps in their schedules. Sports fans are an engaged, loyal, and passionate audience, a key target for advertisers. Eight out of ten people who watch sports have a cable subscription. If there are no live sports to watch, these sports viewers are more likely to cancel their subscription and gravitate towards other forms of entertainment.
Faith Stays Strong
Just as the spread of coronavirus is forcing large numbers of people to embrace telework, telemedicine, and online classes, it’s also pushing some to embrace the idea of live-streaming religious services. According to CNN, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, one of the hardest hit cities of the U.S., closed its doors last week for the first time since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. Moving forward, it plans to hold a service with a small crew of clergy and musicians conducted exclusively via live-stream for the first time in its history.
Increased Usage and Information
It’s a no-brainer that we will see an increase in the amount of internet usage and data consumption over the next few weeks, whether for business purposes or out of boredom, as people seek to maintain communications and stay abreast with the latest news. Realizing that this is an on-going threat, YouTube announced that it will reverse the company’s previous decision to demonetize videos about the coronavirus outbreak. They will start enabling ads for content discussing the coronavirus on a limited number of channels, starting with select news partners and creators first.
To protect consumers from any potential abuses from U.S. internet service providers during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the FCC introduced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge on Friday. In effect for the next 60 days, the pledge asks that companies not terminate service for residential or small business customers, waive any late fees incurred due to the economic effects of the virus, and open access to public Wi-Fi hotspots to “any American who needs them.” Numerous U.S. carriers have also suspended internet data caps during this time.
It’s hard to say what the long-term effects of this pandemic will be on the media industry, mainly because no one knows how long it will be before things are back to normal. One thing is certain, widespread disruption will continue as both businesses and consumers reconfigure their daily lives. The good news is, in today’s technologically advanced society, it is now so easy to do so much without even leaving your home. With that being said, I leave you with a few reminders while working from home: don’t forget to stand up and stretch, look away from your computer screen periodically, and please don’t hoard all of the toilet paper.
- Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service (ACS) data and U.S. Census Bureau
- eMarketer, “Behind the Numbers” podcast, March 16, 2020