Too much content – studies show how #stayathome influences media usage


“Man watching” by Said Marroun CC Shutterstock


The fact that media usage has increased exponentially during the pandemic should come as no surprise. Statistics show that Netflix & co. have benefitted disproportionately from this development. In the meantime, however, there have also been more detailed investigations of how the way people use media has changed with the progress of the pandemic. The advertising industry naturally keeps a sharp eye on such analyses. But there are certain trends that are also of general interest and help to forecast how things might develop once the pandemic is over.



In August, Adobe Digital Insights published the results from its own study [1]. Adobe Analytics was used to analyse over 24 billion video starts and over 6.6 billion hours of video content viewed online via OTT, desktop and mobile phone platforms. This data was supplemented by a user survey (conducted in the USA).



Binging curves


Among the most striking trends in the Adobe study is the correlation between the rise in the infection curve and excessive media usage (“binging”). And yet consumer behaviour is surprisingly volatile. During the lockdown phase, for example, the time spent on media consumption increased enormously in the first few months but immediately declined again as the curve flattened in the USA in June.


It is also interesting to note that, as the pandemic spread, both surfing for web videos and other content was up as well as the completion rate once something suitable was found. By early 2019, according to Adobe, the number of videos viewed online had begun to fall steadily. And the time spent watching them also became shorter and shorter. But then the pandemic halted that long-term trend. In the period from April 2020, the trend in fact reversed, and in July 2020 the amount of content viewed in full, i.e. from start to finish, increased by 11 percent compared to the previous year.



Traditional and regional media on the rise


In terms of content, watching the news was the strongest factor in rising media consumption, second only to online films and series. Interestingly, traditional formats and broadcasters benefitted most from this growth, with people placing greater trust in them in times of crisis. A further effect is a preference for regional and local media providers over national programmes or even global platforms.



Adobe’s findings, which are based on studies in the USA, are largely borne out by similar European studies, although these are less extensive or have a limited scope.



A study by Havas Media Wien in Austria, for example, observed similar developments. All news portals benefitted from the crisis, and newspapers almost doubled their reach. In all age groups, the time spent watching classic television increased – but then began to decline again in April when the infection curve flattened. National websites saw a greater increase relative to international ones. Global social media platforms, however, recorded only a modest rise in use, and Facebook usage even stagnated [2].



Similarly, in Germany, only 14 percent of people get their news from social media, while 45 percent rely on the news broadcast via classic channels such as TV, radio and print media, according to a study by the Hans Bredow Institute. A Forsa survey found that only young people between the ages of 15 and 18 were using digital media on mobile devices more than before, especially during school closures.



Smartphones lose on the end-device front


As far as video streaming devices are concerned, all studies agree that smartphones are the big losers in the pandemic. Before and at the very beginning of the pandemic, video watching on smartphones increased steadily compared to other end devices. However, according to Adobe, mobile video streaming has been falling steadily since May and was 35% lower in June than a year ago.



This is really bad luck for Quibi (“quick bites”), a new platform providing short content exclusively for mobile phones. After long years of planning, the platform was launched in April – the worst possible moment. For the launch, Quibi [3] invested a huge sum ($1.1 billion) in a plethora of pre-produced original content, including 7,000 new short film episodes. After all the hype, the launch then fizzled. While the company had predicted 7.4 million subscribers, the app had only 1.5 million active users as of the end of May, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The forecast had to be adjusted to 2 million in July.



The New York Times has also tracked declining interest in watching video on mobile phone: “In the past few years, users of these services were increasingly moving to their smartphones, creating an industrywide focus on mobile. Now that we are spending our days at home, with computers close at hand, Americans appear to be remembering how unpleasant it can be to squint at those little phone screens.” (“The Virus Changed the Way We Internet”)[4].



By contrast, podcasts (and radio broadcasts) have come from behind to emerge as surprising winners in the competition for media users during the pandemic. According to the study by the Hans Bredow Institute, the user base, especially 18- to 24-year-olds, grew by 11 percent compared to the previous year.




Too much content


Even before the pandemic, many studies had demonstrated that the streaming market was saturated. People are talking about “streaming fatigue” and “content obesity”. A user survey carried out by the opinion research companies TV Time and UTA IQ last November with 6,634 consumers in the USA, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands found that 70 percent of streaming customers believe that there are now simply too many streaming options. 67 percent of consumers find switching between multiple services frustrating. And 58 percent are tired of having to juggle so many different logins. 45 percent say it is already too difficult to find what they are looking for in the vast array of content. [5]



The latest Adobe study comes to similar conclusions. Under the heading “Too Much Content”, it notes that: “Although consumers have spent a lot of their time quarantined with video turned on, 40 percent feel overwhelmed with the amount of choices they have in selecting programming. The study finds that 40 percent felt there were too many apps and services to stream video, and that it was difficult to manage”



The correlations between media use and the infection curve, together with phenomena such as streaming fatigue, subscription fatigue and Zoom fatigue, suggest that it is far from certain that current trends in digital media usage will become the new normal after the pandemic.





[1] Source: Adobe Blog Insights 

[2] A New York Times article about a study remarks: “Facebook, Netflix and YouTube have all seen user numbers on their phone apps stagnate or fall off as their websites have grown, the data from SimilarWeb and Apptopia indicates. SimilarWeb and Apptopia both draw their traffic numbers from several independent sources to create data that can be compared across the internet.” (“The Virus Changed the Way We Internet”)

[3] See also our article “Jeffrey Katzenberg announces premium short form video platform Quibi”

[4] NYT, ibid.

[5] Sources: “There’s Too Many Damn Streaming Services, Study Finds” (Vice) and “Survey: Consumers Concerned About the Glut of Streamers Set to Flood the Market” (Variety)




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