When searching for an indicator of how much the COVID-19 pandemic changed American lives, look no further than the major growth in streaming video since March 2020. Recent studies indicate changes in video viewing habits, such as the length of time people spend streaming video and the sheer numbers of new viewers.
Generally, the impetus behind the streaming increase lies in learning new skills (58%) for DIY projects, keeping viewers moving forward mid-crisis (79%), and people searching out information on new brands and product reviews during the shutdown of stores (81%).
The impact of the change in viewing patterns is different depending on the platform under discussion and on the content owners themselves. The following describes a few of the changes and provides a glimpse into future impacts.
Social Media Video. The pandemic has highlighted the increased inclination of video viewers to join groups that share interests and enthusiasm for specific topics. Facebook and YouTube are examples of trends in social media streaming video.
- Facebook. 30% of study respondents say they watch more Facebook videos since the pandemic, and 79% of participants in the study said streaming videos made them happy. Facebook Watch now reports 1.25 billion visitors every month. Facebook Watch says it had a surge during the pandemic that has not let up. No specific numbers were given. However, the company says that its videos focus on social topics to drive conversations, such as the show Red Table Talk.
- YouTube. 85% of study respondents say they watch more YouTube since the pandemic. Google's internal data indicates that the viewers seek out YouTube videos made within the last seven days because they search for streaming that reflects what's going on in the world today. YouTube's audiences during the pandemic appear drawn to more self-care videos, such as the 25% who increased the streaming of "natural sounds" videos to help calm them during the crisis. Another change in viewing habits appears in the food/cooking channels in response to restaurants closing and the increase in shopping online as contactless delivery of food items became the new normal.
OTT Platforms. Over-the-Top services (OTT) means any streaming video service that sends media to consumers directly over the internet and provides access to movies or TV shows through log-in on an app, website, or page. Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime are examples of OTT content owners. Streaming services increased from an estimated 192.7 million viewers to 207.5 million viewers.
- Hulu. According to the latest estimates by eMarketer.com, Hulu is on track to attract 72.4 million viewers or 34.9% of OTT viewers.
- Netflix. Netflix experienced six months of unparalleled growth as a result of the pandemic's shutdown. However, in the third quarter of 2020, the streaming colossus added fewer new subscribers than any point in the last four years. The company expects viewership will increase by six million in the last quarter of 2020 but that falls below the tens of millions who subscribed as the shut-down kept people in their homes.
- Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime seemed to take a backseat to other streaming networks as it sought to increase its dominance in the e-commerce world during the pandemic. That doesn't mean it didn't see increases in subscriptions. The second quarter of 2020 saw Prime video grab 23% of the streaming subscriptions during that quarter.
Behind the Trends
Consumers flock to streaming video for various reasons. The following points describe some of those reasons.
- Many new consumers drew towards streaming video when employment, movie theaters, gyms, parties, hair salons, and even family gatherings shut-down due to the pandemic.
- Viewers leaned toward self-help videos leading to new job skills or sharpening old skills.
- Other viewers leaned toward pure entertainment, whether it was to fill the suddenly looming hours of solitude or just to feel better.
- Many viewers gravitated toward YouTube for feel-good animal videos, self-care (how to cut your own hair was popular), and videos to help reduce anxiety caused by the uncertain future outside the front door.
- Online communities grew as well as people reached out to like-minded others. For example, when churches closed their doors people looked for online services. In addition, school closures gave rise to communities of parents who suddenly found themselves having to work remotely while home-schooling their children.
As the pandemic evolves, viewing habits will evolve as well. In the third quarter of 2020, it looked like the initial swell in streaming viewership was shrinking just a bit as restrictions on public activity loosened. However, if the second wave of COVID-19 hits in a major way, and health systems become critical or employment retracts further, the US may see another shut-down in one form or another. If current trends are any indicator, this will lead to another surge in video streaming.