Streaming in the Age of COVID-19

World Screen recaps a range of studies about how COVID-19 is accelerating changes in media consumption.

Streaming is up worldwide, fairly substantially, thanks to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures. According to Conviva’s Q1 State of Streaming report, streaming viewership rose by 57 percent compared to the same period last year. “With so much uncertainty in the world today, streaming provides a moment of escape, a modicum of normalcy in what are definitely not normal times,” Conviva said. “As the worldwide coronavirus pandemic unfolded in Q1, people around the world were homebound, workplaces and schools closed, sports seasons postponed, and viewers turned to streaming en masse.”

Viewership of on-demand content surged, Conviva reports, rising 79 percent and capturing 72 percent of viewing time in the first quarter. In comparison, in the year-ago period, on-demand had a 63-percent share of streaming viewership, with live at 37 percent.

Conviva also saw rapid changes in consumption habits between February—pre-shutdowns—and March. Overall time spent streaming was up 20 percent from one month to the next, led by connected TVs. Connected TV sets dominate streaming activity, with a 54 percent share globally. By region, the Americas lead in connected TV usage at 62 percent of streaming viewership, followed by Europe (24 percent), Africa (13 percent) and Asia (1 percent). Meanwhile, in Asia and Africa, PC viewing dominates at 51 percent and 54 percent, respectively. Mobile accounts for 43 percent of streaming viewership in Asia, 32 percent in Europe, 27 percent in Africa and 21 percent in the Americas.

The fastest growth in streaming was reported in Europe, with viewership up 70 percent overall, while the Americas saw streaming increase by 57 percent. Asia was up 30 percent and Africa 25 percent. In the key Southeast Asian markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, weekly consumption of online video rose by 60 percent amid COVID-19-related stay-at-home measures, according to Media Partners Asia (MPA). “The penetration of streaming video has increased dramatically during this pandemic as millions have been forced to operate from home,” said Vivek Couto, executive director of MPA. “The focus now is on how successfully SVOD platforms will be able to retain newly acquired customers in 2H 2020 and to what extent AVOD platforms can capitalize on the expanded reach.”

Conviva reflected a similar sentiment as it looked ahead to Q2: “The industry has never had a better opportunity to engage viewers, whether introducing them to new streaming services, encouraging a deep dive into the catalog, or building loyalty. There will also be incredible challenges for the industry. Advertising will continue to be dampened by the evolving situation, but we expect it will return with fervor in 2021 and beyond. The large increases in viewing have resulted in never-before-seen scale, which presents additional complexities in ensuring an excellent experience. Consumer demand for sports will not wane, but the landscape of offerings will likely evolve with the current drought of content. As price sensitivity plays a bigger role, the streaming providers best positioned in the current climate will likely be those with hybrid models that include a lower-cost option. Streaming has proven to be essential, securing a place in viewers’ homes during this difficult time, but the streaming wars are nowhere near over and the winners yet to be decided.”

Digital TV Research has already revised its OTT subscriber projections, forecasting that this year alone will see 170 million new SVOD customers. “We have completely revised our forecasts for 138 countries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research. “A major impact of lockdown has been a steep rise in SVOD subscriptions.”

As for what people are watching, it’s a mixed bag. According to Reelgood, an aggregator for streaming sources, between March 16 and April 26, the most popular shows in the U.S. were all on Netflix: Ozark, Money Heist and Tiger King. The most popular movie was Parasite, which is streaming on Hulu. By genre, meanwhile, viewership of comedy, faith and spirituality and kids’ content was up, while horror, war and crime declined. The drama Doctor Foster and the movie Silver Linings Playbook had the most significant jumps in popularity from pre-COVID to post-COVID.

“One of the biggest shifts—and opportunities—that we’re noticing is the massive spike in children’s content available to stream,” said Catharine Burhenne, head of marketing at Reelgood. “The entertainment businesses who thrive during the COVID and post-COVID eras will be the ones who can cater their offerings to accommodate the huge appetite for streaming kids’ content.”