It’s been less than a week since the UK government announced the need for UK citizens to start thinking differently about their daily routines in response to COVID 19.  Since then, new restrictions and requirements have launched daily in an attempt to prevent the spreading of the virus.

Non-essential travel and contact, the cancellation of mass sporting and social events, the closure of schools, bars, cafes and restaurants alongside workforces at large, now working remotely, has resulted in mass behaviour change as the UK adapts to its changing circumstances.

One week into the government ramping up its response to the virus, this is the first instalment of how we are seeing COVID 19 impact UK media consumption. 

TV – Everyone’s home but what to watch?

With a good proportion of the UK now at home, we are already seeing significant increases in the viewing of certain programmes and to typically lower viewed dayparts across all audiences.  All Adult daytime viewing on Weds 18th was +26% week on week.  The most noticeable growth is coming from younger audiences with 1624ads +17% across all dayparts week on week and +40% in daytime specifically. 

As the nation tries to understand the latest on COVID 19, news programming is seeing unprecedented levels of interest with Sky News viewing +122% and C4’s Coronavirus special +60% versus the same slot the week prior. 

Peak airtime will remain one to watch, but initial data suggests it isn’t benefitting as much, and a gradual shut down on programme production will undoubtedly impact the schedule.  Soaps are streamlining the number of episodes they air each week, Coronation St will move from 6 transmissions to 3 each week.  Core entertainment programming such as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway will continue to be filmed but without a studio audience. 

The postponement of the Premier League, Six Nations, Euros 2020, Masters, and other sports such as tennis and F1 has had an immediate impact on young male audiences. Most of this programming is being replaced by repeat and old programming.  This will affect Sky most, they rely heavily on sports to fuel their schedule.  

Without a fresh supply of material, we face a paradox where demand soars due to self-isolation and children being at home, but content dries up.  We anticipate that the broadcasters will start to use the schedule as a galvanising force for good, creating new programmes such as fitness for elderly, educational programming and virtual church congregations.

From what we see in countries that are further ahead on this journey we can only expect viewing to increase, substantially over the coming week, with Italy currently seeing +17.9% increase in all individuals.

Video On Demand – never been more in demand

With increasingly large swathes of the UK working from home, we are seeing surges in viewing across Video On Demand (VOD) services.

Data available so far has shown connected TV viewing streams +59% across February and March year on year and a 40% increase in VOD consumption hours.  ITV hub has reported a +39% increase in hours consumed and a +32% increase in requests (24th February – 15th March), with the biggest growth from those aged 35-54.  Meanwhile, All4 has seen a 10% increase in hours consumed, whilst viewing via Sky set-top boxes was up 17% YoY.

The percentage of homes with SVOD services had previously surpassed 50% but this is likely to increase.  With schools closing, Disney+ is set to succeed with their catalogue of kid’s friendly content. However, with programme production now halted for SVOD, services such as Netflix in the US could soon come under pressure.

Portal-based VOD platforms such as YouTube and Twitch are also showing growth, YouTube streaming has increased 15% week on week, whilst Twitch has increased by 10%.

Whilst we can expect to see large increases in VOD, part of this growth will have been organic, driven by pre-existing trends towards VOD growth, however, this will be getting significantly boosted by the impact of COVID-19.  We will be closely looking at unmatched BARB viewing data in order to monitor growth and specifically isolate the impact of COVID-19 in the weeks ahead.

Cinema – on hold until further notice

Most cinemas are now temporarily closed following the latest Government advice.

Multiple film releases are being postponed, James Bond ‘No Time to Die’ being the first high profile film to move from April to November, but other releases soon followed suit (Mulan, A Quiet Place II and Military Wives to name but a few).  It is still unknown when the cinemas will open again so we are likely to see further film releases being pushed back to later in 2020 and into 2021.

It’s currently unknown what the long-term effects of cinema closures will be. If an increased amount of films are released across a shorter time period in Q3-4, the question will be whether audiences are willing to visit cinemas multiple times, irrespective of the quality of the slate.

Audio – will continue to boom

Linear spot radio is measured on a quarterly basis so we won’t see the effect on overall audience figures until Q2 of this year.   However, digital audio data shows us that commercial radio is seeing an increase of 25% in daily reach.  Talk show stations specifically have seen sharp increases in audiences, with LBC reporting a 30% increase in listening hours on Monday 16th versus the previous week.   This increase in listening isn’t isolated to the talk shows, Radio X have doubled their daily reach across the last couple of days.

Audiences are still tuning in to listen to their favourite shows, but the stations are seeing more of this listening being done on smart speakers as people work remotely from their homes.  Over the weeks ahead we expect people’s listening times to shift, they are likely to be listening for long beyond the usual peaks of breakfast and drive time.

Print Brands – Paid Print Circulations are increasing along with online engagement

Newsbrand engagement has increased both in print and online as people seek information from trusted sources both for Coronavirus news and strategies for managing new life circumstances.  Paid for print sales have increased 8% in the period 9-16th March and digital engagement has also increased with + 35% in unique users since the 9th March.

Free titles such as Metro and Evening Standard are facing the biggest challenge, experiencing a reduction in pick up rates of between 5-40% this week, a decline which is expected to continue.

Meanwhile, subscriptions have risen significantly. The Telegraph circulation, already made up of 60% subscriptions, has already seen their average weekly subscription purchase rates double over the last two weeks.  We anticipate subscription to be a key focus for the quality titles and all titles are driving a home delivery offer. 

For magazine publishers, more visits to supermarkets mean more magazine sales and publishers are shifting distribution from travel points to supermarkets. Circulations are up in line with newspapers at circa 7%. Lifestyle content is being sought as light relief from news content, therefore unique user numbers online are likely to be showing increases.

OOH – journeys out of the home will become increasingly valuable

Passenger numbers on public transport declined rapidly this week and as of yesterday, TFL is running a reduced service with some stations closed entirely.   We have seen a shift from public transport to more car journeys. The majority of the grocery retailers have reported an increase in sales in March and while there has been an increase in online grocery sales, 60% of the revenue is still coming from in-store.

As a result, certain formats such as roadside, buses and point of sale continue to deliver the reach that is dropping more rapidly across the underground, rail and some mall formats. If there is a full London Lockdown the picture will undoubtedly change and proximity media will become increasingly valuable.

With a greater focus on self-isolation and the potential for further lockdowns, it is likely that OOH will be impacted considerably in the weeks ahead. 

Search & PPC – will we find a new normal?

PPC investment has seen a 20% drop week on week.  Auctions which are normally incredibly competitive have dropped entirely, and in many cases, there are no advertisers present at all.  Searches have become less transactional and more about seeking information. 

Travel clients have understandably paused activity.  Since the 22nd of February, there has been a 400% increase in searches for travel insurance.  Initially, these were transactional, as people tried to cover themselves for upcoming trips, but as the seriousness of Covid-19 hit in, two things have happened: insurers are pulling out and people are now searching for advice.

Life insurance searches are an interesting barometer of how we’re feeling. Overall searches have doubled since the 20th February and have remained high with people worried about their jobs and planning for the worst.

Unsurprisingly areas such as retail and FMCG are seeing huge increases in search volumes which are up 729%.  This is not translating into a greater investment due to many suppliers being unable to fulfil the heightened demand. 

Millennials top searches are for “streaming”, Gen Z are searching for “gaming” and commuters are searching for “home delivery”.

It’s hard to make any hard and fast predictions but we must assume that we’ll find a new ‘normal for now’ in search. That will probably mean travel remains on hold, high-value purchases such as cars reduce significantly and the demand for everyday essentials remains high, leading to retail and FMCG advertisers starting to invest in PPC again once move past the panic buying we have witnessed this week. 

Paid Social – will more active eyes mean we have more attention to fight for? 

Paid social has seen 200% growth week on week despite most travel advertisers pulling spends.  The biggest growth we have seen is for alcohol brands (a fantastic insight into the UK psyche) and retailers who are up 118% week on week.   Finance, driven by a peak in interest within insurance has seen a dramatic increase, with users engaging with ads from companies offering advice on what to do if they are impacted by the spread of the virus. 

The Platforms have taken the responsibility to reiterate government messaging and send users towards officially recognised sources in order to maintain a consistent set of guidelines to limit the spread of COVID 19.  

We’ve yet to properly see the impact that mass home working will have on Social reach. We expect more active eyes using the apps which could mean more attention to fight for. Initial research is showing increased competition as more people are spending time at home, resulting in average CPMs increasing. 

Display – consumers seek comfort

There has been a huge increase in daily uniques, in particular across News sites. This is being driven by people seeking coronavirus news.

We are seeing publishers changing editorial content to suit what people are looking for. There is a growing appetite for content to help cheer people up, tips and hacks for self-isolation: in particular working from home, mental health and physical health.  According to Captify, Gen Z’s are looking for information on gaming; Family Shoppers are actively seeking content around healthcare and household goods whilst Suburban segments are seeking content around technology and working from home enablers. 

We expect to see a growth in digital environments that build relationships, give comfort, encourage sharing and have a positive impact.  With Glastonbury and other social gathering cancelled, we expect to see a rise in virtual alternatives to keep us all entertained!

Affiliates – can we capture interest before normality resumes?

In a category dominated by travel and finance, it’s unsurprising that most clients have paused activity for now with 90% of brands on hold.  However, in some cases brands are moving to a lead only model, seeking to capture interest ahead of when normality resumes. 

As with other performance channels, the future of affiliates is going to be heavily dictated by how external events unfold.  Brands will need to hold tight, shift or pause strategy as necessary and be ready to restart when the moment is right. 

Ecommerce- growth hindered by technological and supply issues

The seven days of panic buying both instore and online has affected every retailer: supermarkets are seeing 400% increases in online visits, Ocado has had to shut their app due to being unable to handle the volume of traffic and Amazon has had to prioritise household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products, blocking non-essential items.  

It has meant that many advertisers are having to manage or even pause their investment in ecomm in order to prioritise supply and fulfilment.  Many retailers are moving staff from what are normally office-based roles to the ‘front line’ to help ensure high demand items are available and fulfilment can resume.   

After seven days of panic buying, we can only hope for a period of ‘normality’, but the future of ecomms businesses is yet to be seen.  On the one hand, self-isolation and lockdown could lead to short term growth for some, but as the impact of COVID 19 takes hold, its unlikely to be sustained.

One week in, we have already seen the dramatic impact COVID 19 has had on media consumption, time will tell whether these initial shifts will become more permanent behaviours.  This is, however week one, these are unprecedented times and with further restrictions likely, we can be confident that there will be more shifts to come.  

If you would like to speak to our experts here at Wavemaker North on navigating the media landscape during these unprecedented times, you can email us on or give us a call on 0161 930 9000.