COVID-19 Pandemic a “Watershed Moment” for Canadian Media

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With the current coronavirus pandemic driving Canadians indoors and into self-isolation, media consumption has predictably increased across the board. Yet while idle citizens are turning to linear platforms for news consumption, children’s entertainment, and tentpole U.S. and Canadian series finales, it’s over-the-top (OTT) services that are breaking through in Canadian households.  

In its first-quarter earnings report released on April 21, Netflix revealed 16 million new global subscribers had signed up for the streaming service between January and March.  Conviva reports streaming time spent and mobile game downloads are up 20 to 30 percent year-to-year. And in February, before stay-at-home orders hit, Bell Media’s Crave announced it was up 14 percent in total subscribers from last year, a number that is expected to increase by the company’s Q1 earnings report on May 7 following free 30-day trials offered to new users during the lockdown.

According to Richard Koo, the Canada Media Fund’s Manager of Media Analytics, those stats could mark a pivotal moment in the Canadian shift to non-linear consumption. Especially as viewers find themselves with more time to try out new services they’ve been hearing about but were previously too busy to engage with.

“That has big implications for what the future of [media] consumption is going to be,” he says. “We have seen this steady drop in linear services over the years, as people embrace things like Netflix and Crave. But this is like a sea change moment now because this is such a cataclysmic time and that is changing everybody’s patterns. There was a steady drip for a bit but now this is a watershed moment where everybody sort of sees they have options other than linear to explore.”

Some good news for news

Viewers may be turning to OTT platforms for evening escapes, but daytime viewing on linear has also seen decided growth as Canadians tune in to the news for briefings and daily updates. Numeris stats indicate English-language television viewing has been up 36 percent from 9 a.m. to noon and 33 percent from noon to 4 p.m. Meanwhile, French-language television is up 45 percent in the mornings and 76 percent in the afternoons. Koo is curious whether those numbers will plateau as fatigue sets in and more people adjust to working from home, but for now the appetite for information — and specifically local news — is up.

Also up were numbers for news-based late night programming as hosts like Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert switched to at-home broadcasts, proving that live and timely current events coverage give linear a continued advantage. As for emerging network apps and set-top boxes? Koo notes there’s no real way to track app success in the current market, but adds that on-demand measurement can often add upwards of 20 percent to top-performing shows. 

A creative future

Looking ahead, Koo believes user-generated content is key to retaining audiences as previously produced content runs out and advertisers pull back on sponsorships in this time of crisis. Content creators should be aware of how quickly the consumption landscape has changed and incorporate that into business models moving forward.

“It’s a moment no one has experienced in our lifetime and now we need to see if that extends itself when we get back to some sense of new normal — I don’t think it’s going to bounce back to where it used to be,” he says. “This is not a doomsday scenario by any means, but it’s an awareness that the migration patterns we’ve seen are accelerating. They may tear back a little bit, but they won’t go back to what they were… Broadcasters have been diversifying over the last couple of years because they’ve had to but this may be a complete shock to the system. This is something that we’ll have to track.”

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