How coronavirus changed the way we watch, listen and play

Lucas Shaw

BLOOMBERG – The coronavirus outbreak has forced billions of people around the world to answer a question they’d never contemplated: What do we do without live sports?

For the past decade, televised sporting events have been one of the last reliable remnants of a shared popular culture. In 2019, live sports accounted for 88 per cent of the most-watched programmes on TV in the United States (US). The National Football League, Game 7 of the World Series and the college football championship game outdrew any drama or sitcom.

But with every major sporting event postponed until summer, at the earliest, people are stuck at home with lots of free time and far less to watch. Bloomberg dug through analyst reports, research papers and outside data providers to synthesise a comprehensive look at how media habits have shifted during the early weeks of the ongoing global health crisis.

If our media habits are any indication, the coronavirus has turned us all into three types of people: tweens, grandparents and cat lovers. Here’s what the entertainment world looks like during a pandemic.

Parents eager to entertain their kids without a screen are turning back the clock. The fastest-growing categories of toys were games and puzzles – including board games, card games and building sets
Streaming video use between 7pm and 10pm is down around the world, according to Conviva. Instead, people are watching more in the middle of the day. The amount of time people spend streaming video between 11am and 2pm is up by more than 40 per cent

NOON IS THE NEW PRIME TIME FOR TV

People are watching more video of all kinds – Netflix, TikTok, cable TV and YouTube. But while total consumption is up, most people aren’t actually watching more during the hours we associate with prime-time TV. Streaming video use between 7pm and 10pm is down around the world, according to Conviva. Instead, people are watching more in the middle of the day. The amount of time people spend streaming video between 11am and 2pm is up by more than 40 per cent.

What is everyone watching? Tiger King is the first breakout hit of quarantine. The documentary about a subculture of big-cat breeders and owners was the most-watched programme on Netflix in the US for the better part of two weeks. Hulu, meanwhile, said its viewers “gravitated towards comedies and ‘comfort’ TV shows”.

WE’RE LISTENING TO LESS MUSIC – BUT WATCHING MORE

Audio streaming fell around the world during the first couple weeks of quarantine, according to industry experts and MRC Data. Streaming in the US, the world’s largest market, plunged to its lowest level all year before stabilising at the end of March. Some experts blamed the lack of fresh songs. Musicians such as Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys have delayed the release of their albums because they won’t be able to tour for months.

But the bigger issue, executives agree, is that music is an activity people do while on-the-go. People aren’t commuting or spending as much time in their cars, where a lot of listening happens.

The same applies to podcasting, which experienced three consecutive weeks of audience declines, according to Podtrac. Stuck at home, people would rather watch than listen. To wit: Music video streaming (aka YouTube) has jumped in the past month.

PEOPLE SPENT 1.3 BILLION HOURS WATCHING TWITCH IN MARCH

Twitch, the video-streaming site owned by Amazon.com has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the shelter-in-place orders. Time spent on Twitch jumped 23 per cent in March from the month before, according to Streamlabs. While Twitch is best known as a site for gamers, it’s also proven popular for live concerts and a feature called #JustChatting, which is a lot like YouTube’s video blogging (or vlogging).

It’s not just hardcore gamers who are having fun either. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a title for casual gamers in which players colonise a deserted island, has put up record sales.

BOARD GAMES ARE COOL AGAIN

Parents eager to entertain their kids without a screen are turning back the clock. Toy sales in the US spiked 26 per cent in the week ending March 21, according to NPD.

The fastest-growing categories were games and puzzles, including board games and card games, and building sets (think: Lego).

NEWS TRUMPS LIVE SPORTS

Prime-time ratings for ESPN were down more than 50 per cent in the final week of March, while TBS, which would ordinarily be showing March Madness, saw its viewership plunge by more than 2.4 million viewers from a year ago. The lack of new live events has also shrank the audience for highlight shows (SportsCenter) and podcasts (Bill Simmons).

The biggest beneficiary on TV? Cable news. The Fox News channel was the most-watched cable network in the US, drawing 4.2 million viewers in the week, nearly double the runner-up, MSNBC. All three cable news networks topped two million that week, while no other cable network even exceeded 1.3 million.

WE’RE ALL INFLUENCERS NOW

But users aren’t just watching other people. They are posting more too. Users uploaded 13 per cent more stories to Instagram than they were before quarantines set in across most of the Western world, and the number of new stories to Wattpad, an online publishing portal, has climbed by 151 per cent.