5 Takeaways From Study On COVID-19 Content Consumption And Opportunities For Media Companies

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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5 Takeaways from a study on COVID-19 content consumption and opportunities for media companies. COVID-19 may have forced advertisers to stop spending, but locked-down consumers are spending more time online. Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

The coronavirus pandemic may have forced advertisers to stop, cut or delay media spending, but locked-down consumers are spending more and more time online seeking and devouring coronavirus content.

Searching for coronavirus updates on the internet is the top online activity for 68 percent of consumers, according to latest research by GlobalWebIndex.

GWI studies consumers’ media consumption habits, including what people want to see more of in the news, their willingness to pay for it, what types of media people are consuming more of and whether they plan to continue after the crisis ends.

Coronavirus content is dominating consumers’ time online regardless of their income, gender or generation, except Gen Z (16-to-23 year-olds who are more likely to listen to music) according to WhatsNewInPublishing.

In the U.S., 87 percent of consumers say they’re consuming more content and they’re doing so mostly via broadcast TV, online videos, and online TV streaming.

Faisal Kalim, a business journalist, specializes in revenue generation strategies for publishers. Here are 5 takeaways from Kalim’s report on COVID-19 content consumption and opportunities for media companies.

More media subscriptions

About 40 percent of respondents in the U.S. told GlobalWebIndex they’re considering buying new media subscriptions.

The crisis has magnified the need to diversify revenue and paid subscriptions that have seen a surge in demand, according to the Subscription Impact Report published by Zuora.

The growth rate for digital news and media subscriptions tripled in March compared to 2019, thanks to heightened demand from people stuck indoors. The subscription software company polled more than 700 of its customers in a variety of industries.

Many news sites dropped the paywalls on their coronavirus news coverage, but some publishers converted the traffic increase into paid subscribers. For example, The Atlantic magazine got 36,000 new paid subscriptions, according to an internal memo from EIC Jeffrey Goldberg, CNN reported.

Vox Media, which merged in 2019 with New York magazine’s publisher, said digital subscriptions to its NYMag.com website hit a record during the week of March 23, according to CNBC.

More good news

People are seeking out positive news stories, WNIP reported. Coronavirus recovery rates and positive stories are the most sought-after in news across every demographic group.

Sites specializing in upbeat news have seen a surge in recent weeks, and Google searches for “good news” have jumped fivefold since the beginning of the year, Al-Jazeera reported on April 14.

“People are sending us links of positive, inspiring things happening in their neighborhoods, in their cities, in their states, so we have so much good news to pass along,” said Geri Weis-Corbley, founder and editor of The Good News Network, where traffic tripled in the past month with more than 10 million visitors. She also observed spikes in interest after the global financial crisis and the September 11 attacks.

About a third of consumers in the U.S. want to see more topics unrelated to the coronavirus. People also want critical analysis of how the government is managing the outbreak. 

Among those seeking more non-coronavirus news, about 70 percent are looking for positivity in the news they consume and 30 percent say they’re searching for sports and celebrity news.

“Our editorial team saw growing interest in the stories that made our audience smile, with fascinating discoveries, everyday heroes, inspiring movements and great things happening all over the world,” a CNN spokesperson said about a CNN newsletter, The Good Stuff. Created in 2019, The Good Stuff recently saw a 50-percent increase in subscriptions over the previous month.

More news delivered by social media platforms

As people stay home and try to maintain social and professional relationships from a distance, reliance on digital tools has increased significantly.

News consumption is the fastest-growing behavior on social platforms, according to Virna Sekuj, senior insights analyst at GlobalWebIndex. In the U.S., 49 percent of consumers report using the internet to read more news stories on social media as a result of coronavirus.

That’s more than the percentage who say they’re increasingly keeping in touch with family and friends (41 percent) and watching more live videos (28 percent). News consumption is the fastest-growing behavior on social platforms, according to Virna Sekuj, senior insights analyst at GlobalWebIndex.

Video conferencing app Zoom has seen a spike in professional and personal use. TikTok usage is up 47 percent, according to TheNextWeb. TikTok competitor Snapchat is seeing the second-highest relative growth in interest, up 18.5 percent in March. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — used mainly by adults — are seeing around 15 percent increases in search interest. Pinterest saw a 5-increase in search interest — not a surprise considering its “non-essential product inspiration,” TNW reported. The only large social network that’s seeing a significant downturn in search attention is LinkedIn — down 23 percent as employment shrinks.

More reliance on trusted news sources

Little is known about the new coronavirus, and the statistics on cases and deaths can scare you to death. Unfounded claims aren’t just coming from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, but from the White House.

It’s hard to predict whether plans to reopen the economy and expectations of a vaccine or cure will become a reality, but there are potential areas of revenue for digital content providers. 

Readers have returned to trusted news sources in vast numbers for information and help during this difficult time, wrote Hisham Itani, head Of marketing at Deep BI, Inc. which helps publishers leverage their first-party data with AI. “And the industry has responded overwhelmingly positively by removing  obstacles to COVID-19 content.”

Regardless of what type of content is being consumed, “the fact is that every generation is relying on their devices during this pandemic to inform and distract more than ever before, creating a huge opportunity for media companies to engage a captive audience,” said Katie Jones, a strategist and writer at Visual Capitalist

Investing in a sustainable loyal readership base is worth the effort, Itani wrote. “Engaging with readers now and guiding them through the funnel — even if it is with something as simple as a newsletter signup, registration or mobile app download — is betting that over time the customer’s long term value will be significant indeed.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 70: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the COVID-19 crisis. He talks about the failed leadership of Trump, Andrew Cuomo, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and New York Mayor de Blasio.

“Adding a strong digital strategy to this mix can help publishers ensure that readers are receiving the proper information and support they need during this troubled time and guarantee their own future in this role.”

More staying power for news consumption

Certain media consumption behavior may have more staying power than others, especially in the U.S., according to GlobalWebIndex. In the U.S., 76 percent of online video watchers say they plan to consume as much content when the outbreak is over as they are now. The next-closest category is book readers, with 70-percent-plus saying they plan to keep reading as much after the pandemic is over. 

Millennial podcast listeners are next, with 68 percent saying they plan to keep up with the consumption.