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How COVID-19 Has Changed Our Media Consumption

7 min read
Apr 28, 2020

COVID-19 has changed our lives in more ways than we would have ever imagined. To stop the coronavirus from spreading, governments across the world recommended social distancing and have put many countries on lockdown. People have had to adapt to a new reality on many different levels. The time we would’ve typically spent doing other things we shouldn’t do now, like going to the cinema or gym, has hugely changed our media consumption. 

I’m among the fortunate who can work from home and do the regular work I’d normally be doing in the office. This also means I don’t have that much time to indulge in catching up with all the latest shows on Netflix or HBO Go. Still, when I shut down my laptop in the afternoon, there’s not much to do, and I noticed my habits have changed a little bit too. I figured it must be a hot topic these days and decided to take a look at how COVID-19 has changed our media consumption globally. 

How different generations are consuming media

Like many of you, I’m a member of a few group conversations on Messenger. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is a hot topic in all of them. I’ve seen countless graphs and charts reflecting stats related to the coronavirus. I have to admit, I stopped paying attention to them after a while. Then, one of my friends shared an infographic depicting changes in media consumption by generation. It instantly grabbed my attention. I asked about the source of the data and quickly dove into the research.

Based on data from a Global Web Index report, Visual Capitalist has painted a picture of how being quarantined has changed our media consumption. They surveyed users between the ages of 16-64 and divided their findings by generations. 

Gen Z, already heavily invested in video content, are consuming even more of the same. TV streaming and online video views grew by 38% and 51%, respectively. Conversely, print media, unpopular among this demographic, saw an increase of merely 9%. I’m not a fan of generalizing, but those percentages confirm that video-based platforms are the most popular among the youngest generation of consumers. 

Media consumption by Millennials is very similar, but it’s also more balanced. Print media have seen almost twice as big of an increase. Broadcast TV comes in fourth place, with people watching it 35% more than before the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m still on the fence about how being a Millennial makes me feel, but the findings resonate with me on a personal level. 

When it comes to Gen X, we see the most significant shift from digital to analog media. Online TV and videos are still close to the top, but they are outperformed by broadcast TV and radio with 45% and 38%, respectively. As the report points out, “Gen X increased their TV watching more than any generation but are also watching tv online.”

Unlike the three younger generations, Boomers have a channel that’s way ahead of the rest with broadcast TV getting a 42% increase in screen time. Globally speaking, they altered their habits the least, with almost 25% of respondents saying they didn’t see any changes to how they consume media now. 

The survey was conducted among 4,000 internet users in the U.S. and the UK. The final conclusion is that 80% of consumers in these countries consume more content in general than before the pandemic started.

When asked about the most trustworthy source of information for COVID-19 updates, it turns out that Americans trust the World Health Organization the most. On the other hand, it’s the government’s website that the British find the most reliable. With the cloud of the “fake news” floating around in the background, it’s interesting to see that over ¼ of Millennials trust the news shared on social media

We surf the internet in different ways now

Statistically, it’s no surprise that the internet is the online content that is consumed the most across all generations. However, when I dug deeper into the topic, I found out that we’re not as glued to our smartphones as we were even two or three months ago. The desktop versions of websites such as Facebook.com, Netflix.com, and YouTube.com are experiencing a surge in traffic. Their mobile apps, on the other hand, are getting less engagement. 

COVID-19 has changed the traffic to the websites and apps from Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix.
Image: The New York Times

When people spend significantly more time at home, they’d rather consume content on larger screens. When you think about it for a moment, it seems self-explanatory. Still, it’s especially intriguing when you realize that most of us would probably say they can’t imagine a life without smartphones. This is probably going to change again once we mitigate the pandemic and slowly start going back to “normal.” That shows our iPhones and whatnots are not as irreplaceable as we thought. 

We’ve changed the devices that we use to browse the internet, and we also use it for different purposes. Most of you have probably heard about the Zoom success story, but it’s not just them that are on the rise in that niche. Google Hangouts, Houseparty, WhatsApp, and Messenger are all seeing a spike in the number of video chats on their platforms. That’s just human nature and our inherent need for contact with other people. Face-to-face meetings have been taken away from us, and we needed a substitute that would help us stay sane. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say I video called my parents more in the last two months than I did during the last year. 

Established media outlets are on the rise, and that’s a good thing

The amount of information about COVID-19 can make you dizzy. There’s so much going on globally at all times that even keeping up with the news is confusing. To avoid misinformation, you also need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sure, the big players are not immune to spreading misinformation at times. However, they know the tricks of the trade and are a lot more likely to produce news that is accurate. CNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post have all seen spikes in traffic. People want immediate coverage of the pandemic, and they are turning to those established outlets for it.

Large media organizations in the U.S. are experiencing increased traffic because of the coronavirus.
Image: The New York Times

There’s a similar trend for local newspapers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people also want to know the latest news for their cities and neighborhoods. Those smaller papers are the only ones reporting about their hometowns.

Esports and Twitch are picking up steam

If you’re a sports person like me, it must be difficult to not watch any sports over the weekend. Thankfully, esports are here to take the stage, and they’re now getting a well-deserved spotlight. They were affected by the virus as well, but to a way smaller extent. You’re not going to see people representing two different teams in one venue, but the fact that you can play games online makes it all a lot easier. On top of that, there’s no esports without Twitch, which has seen a 20% increase in traffic. 

The great thing is that organizations that aren’t generally associated with esports are now supporting them. Those of you well versed in soccer know that the LFP is the Spanish equivalent of the MLS or the Premier League. Like all other soccer leagues (apart from that one in Belarus), La Liga was put on hold nearly two months ago. What did the LFP decide to do? They supported the tournament organized by Ibai Llanos, Spanish YouTube personality and content creator, and vastly contributed to the marketing and success of the event.

Are the changes in media consumption going to stick with us?

The world is still far from being a healthy place. Some countries are slowly recovering from the hell COVID-19 has put them through. Still, it’s going to take a lot of time before everything goes back to normal. Even when we are allowed to go back to our offices, I have a feeling many people would still like to work from home, if possible. This ties in with the newly developed habits and changes in media consumption we’ve seen in recent months. Will mobile apps go back to outperforming desktop websites? Or maybe we’ll be too scared to use our phones in public transportation the same way we used to.