The Changes in Media Advertising Landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact consumer behaviour and thus, the media landscape. Many categories that are directly restricted by COVID-19, such as airlines, tourism and retail, are shifting or halting their advertising. Other categories continue to advertise while making changes to their messaging, ensuring it is both relevant and sensitive to the current environment (e.g. QSR focus on pick up, contactless delivery and retailers pivot to e-commerce ordering).

A recent global Kantar study reveals that a clear majority of consumers expect to see advertising during this time. However, tone and content must be carefully considered. The study indicates the “don’ts” of messaging during this time, which include using a humourous tone and exploiting the situation to promote the brand.

Media owners have been responding in a very positive and  flexible manner, despite taking a substantial hit on short term revenue. This is especially true for sports broadcasters, cinema, outdoor and transit media partners.

We have also seen a number of gestures across the media industry that bring some positivity to this challenging time. We want to provide a “shout-out” to some of the Canadian media suppliers that have some fantastic initiatives:

  • Corus is providing free-view for all Canadians across their full stable of specialty channels
  • Outfront Media launches “We Get You Kids At Home” initiative, giving kids at home the chance to design their very own billboard; an uplifting move to provide an outlet for their art and positive emotional messages.

Television Viewing Showing Exponential Increases

As expected, upon wide adoption of social-distancing measures, preliminary analysis shows that TV audiences have increased: According to a survey commissioned by Rogers on Canadian media behaviours, 73% of Canadians are turning to their TV because they need an escape from all the negative news in the media, seeking comedy above all else (net +37) followed by Documentaries, Drama, Action/Thriller and Children’s Programming.

Total TV viewing levels are up 13%-15% vs. the 6 weeks prior. Average Minute Audiences are up 5% over the week of March 9 and 6% over March 2nd; no small feat, as there have been virtually no live sports since March 11.

Not surprisingly, news viewership is increasing:

  • Audiences for Global National News are up 58% vs. 6 weeks prior, and Global News Hour/News @ 6 is up 53% vs. 6 weeks prior.
  • CP24 had its most-watched day on March 16th, since at least a decade ago in 2010.
  • Local News has also seen increases across the board as Canadians seek to understand the impact of COVID-19 in their communities.
  • Given the economic implications, BNN Bloomberg has seen a surge in viewership by upwards of 80% overall.
  • Viewing to Specialty News Networks has seen substantial increases, with viewing up over 100%.
  • Kid/Family channels are also seeing a substantial increase since kids have remained at home. Week over week, YTV was up 138%, Treehouse +26%, Family +80%, Teletoon +35%, Cartoon +17%.
  • People are looking for an escape. Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, and Love Nature are up 30%, 30%, and 276% respectively since the previous week. FX and FXX have increased 41% and 64% respectively, which includes a lot of comedies (Brooklyn Nine Nine, Sunny in Philadelphia, movies)
  • According to connected TV providers (note: data is US- based), streaming viewing time is up +46%, and time spent viewing overall is up +17% compared to Super Bowl weekend

We believe that once news fatigue sets in, viewership will likely rise across multiple programs.

Impact on Digital Audiences

With nation-wide social distancing, we expect to see increased usage on digital platforms that allow us to connect with others (social media, messenger/video apps), gather information (news sites, searches), pass the time (gaming, music streaming, online shopping, online video consumption) and get the essentials (major retail sites).

Various digital suppliers have taken action:

  • News sites such as Globe & Mail have removed paywall barriers to access content (live video, articles) related to COVID.
  • Social platforms are making efforts (and working closely together) to combat fraudulent information and act as a reliable resource by elevating authoritative COVID-19 content and updates. Many offer a COVID-19 specific section to their tool.

What we’ve seen in Digital so far:

  • Recent comScore data (US-based, but relevant) illustrates substantial increases to news and government website visitation. This trend also extended into retail and e-commerce, with the top retailers (Walmart, Amazon) having experienced the highest week of unique visitors in 2020 on March 9-15.
  • Music streaming consumption in the home (desktop/TVs/smart speakers) has begun to grow, while in-car consumption has seen a decline. When it comes to podcasts, users are focusing on self improvement (wellness, meditation) and entertainment content (comedy).
  • The pause on live sports has opened the door to unconventional forms of programming. Globally, the audience at Twitch, which lets viewers see gamers compete via livestreams, has increased 10% in the past few days. Youtube Gaming is also up by 15%.
  • With COVID-19 greatly impacting work and the economy, LinkedIn’s audience is posting more often which is leading to increased feed sessions. “Remote working” searches on LinkedIn Learning have tripled since January as employees and managers look for advice.

Impact on Out-of-Home

Concrete audience data on out-of-home media exposure is not yet available. However, with the vast majority of Canadians practicing social distancing, which includes working from home and drastically reduced time spent outside of the home, the exposure to outdoor and transit advertising is a fraction of what it would be under normal circumstances.

Radio is Now a Constant Companion

Radio/Audio continue to be heavily consumed, but place of listening, device and formats are changing. It also offers local feel and “companionship” via known on air personalities. A new study from Nielsen reveals that 83% of Americans are spending more time with radio as a result of COVID-19, and 51% agreed that listening to radio helps them feel “less stressed” during this time.

Bruce Neve

About the Author: Bruce Neve is the President of Canadian Operations of True Media and has over 25 years experience in the advertising and media industry.