Media in a Post-COVID World

America’s media consumption saw an immediate and abrupt shift in March 2020. Cable news has exploded fueled by health, racial, and political uncertainty. Streaming via OTT (over-the-top) devices has seen a spike as consumers sought a reprieve from said health, racial, and political uncertainty. Live events came to a screeching halt. Audio, a once forgotten medium, is undergoing a renaissance as the fortunate who can work from their couch seek light entertainment. Is this the new normal? As Americans begin to see a glimmer of light at the end of the COVID tunnel, we take a look at what 2021 will look like in the world of media.

Cable news thrives on controversy and division.

With a historically controversial election year, an unprecedented global health crisis, and constant social unrest, cable news is thriving. This summer, Fox News made cable television history. The right-leaning news network averaged 3.5 million viewers in primetime over the summer, marking the first time in television history that a cable news network outrated all sports cable networks as well as all broadcast networks in primetime viewership. An election will be decided and (hopefully) a vaccine will be approved for distribution by the end of this LONG year. Live sports and premium dramas will once again be populating our TV guides. America will be back, but cable news’ viewership will crash back to Earth.

Streaming video consumption exploded as Americans were forced inside

Viewers sought a breather from the constant stream of negativity on the news and social feeds. Based on a recent Nielsen study, streaming viewership increased by 85% versus the summer of 2019. We can expect to see a continued migration to streaming in 2021 considering the continued shift pre-pandemic and the amount of investment in quality content from major media conglomerates.

The story is not if viewership will increase, but where will they be watching. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have had a stronghold on the streaming space for years. Now the traditional media powers are looking for their piece of the pie. Peacock (NBC), Disney+ (Disney), HBO Max (WarnerMedia), and the recently announced Parmount+(CBS/Viacom) will enter a now over-crowded marketplace. Consumers who once fled the overpriced, fragmented world of cable television for a more affordable simple world of streaming now find themselves in a similar and familiar predicament.

No industry has been hit harder than live events during the pandemic.

As NFL and college football returned in the past few weeks, viewers saw glimpses of a phenomenon they haven’t witnessed in six months – attendees in the stands. Some see the slow return of spectators as a positive progression as we forge a path to normalcy. Others view it as an unnecessary risk. As the country gets a better handle on the pandemic and a trusted vaccine emerges, gatherings will become not only accepted, but celebrated. The live experience business will boom in 2021 as months of pent-up energy is unleashed upon stadiums, concert halls, and amusement parks.

The podcast popularity surge is here to stay. 

According to Nielsen, 68 million people, a quarter of the US population, listens to podcasts weekly. The average podcast listener consumes an average of seven different shows per week. As a return to normalcy may hurt the total consumption of other media types, podcasts won’t feel the same brunt. Podcasts allow the listener to multi-task, with 50% of consumption happening outside the home (22% driving, 11% at work, 8% exercising). Podcasting has created new media stars including Joe Rogan and Barstool Sports’ Dan Katz, PFT Commenter, and Alexandra Cooper. Seeing their success, established A-List celebrities are looking to get in the game. Oprah Winfrey, Michele Obama, Bill Clinton, Snoop Dogg, and Demi Moore have or will soon be launching their own shows. Their success and ability to connect is still to be seen (I think the mainstream stars will struggle to find their voice and compete with the top programs), but they will initially bring additional ears to an already growing space.


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