It’s been three days since Boris Johnson placed the UK on a police enforced lockdown in drastic new measures to fight against the coronavirus breakout.   In a live TV address to 14.5m adults the Prime Minister ordered people to only leave their homes under a list of “very limited purposes”, he banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the closure of all non-essential shops.   

Two weeks into the government ramping up its response to the virus we are once again seeing significant shifts in media consumption.  With the UK now in lockdown, media owners are working together as a force for good and helping the nation feel good under what will undoubtedly be a very testing period for everyone. 

TV – News is king, but viewers want escapism

In last week’s update, we saw significant increases in daytime viewing, but less of a jump to peak airtime across TV.  With a country-wide lockdown now continuing in earnest, peak programmes are in demand, resulting in late peak viewing increasing 3.2% week on week.  The growth in viewing on Monday 23rd is telling – with a 15% increase in viewing on the previous week, the first day of widespread working from home. Across March total viewing is currently +6% and we expect this exponential growth to continue as more and more households adhere to the guidelines to stay at home.

While news content continues to pull in audiences, with ITV News at Six up 16% week on week and Sky News up 200%, viewers are also searching for some escapism.

Some of the weekends biggest shows saw stellar performances, ITV experienced its biggest Saturday prime time performance since July 2018, boosted by Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway attracting its largest ever audience of 9.5m viewers, up on the series average by 39%. Despite being filmed without a studio audience, the show performed particularly well for younger audiences, with a 60% share of viewing amongst 16-34 year olds. Meanwhile, over on Channel 4, Gogglebox delivered 3.7 million viewers, up 29% week on week and its largest overnight audience since April 2016, whilst the final episode of The Last Leg delivered its biggest overnight audience since Nov 2016 with 1.77 million viewers (+60% week on week).  

The TV stations are outlining their plans to help their audiences navigate through the crisis, to stay connected with the rest of the country, to help families stay occupied in isolation, and most importantly keep spirits high with a range of great entertainment.    

C4 have announced a range of new programmes. ‘The Steph Show’, a new daytime magazine programme presented by ex-BBC journalist Steph McGovern is launching on Monday 30th March – transmitted from Steph’s own lounge.   A range of new programming to keep families entertained and active through their isolation will also include Grayson Perry creating art with the whole nation, Kirstie Allsopp sharing craft ideas for all the family and Jamie Oliver helping people cook with store cupboard essentials.

In the last week, media owners have pulled together to support the government’s COVID19 public service messaging offering free access to creative capabilities and messaging integration into editorial and onscreen graphics. Channel 4’s family of channels now features a ‘Stay Home’ graphic on screen, with Sky’s homepage sharing messaging across display and video content.

ITV took advantage of the captive Saturday night audience to relaunch their ‘Britain Get Talking’ mental health initiative, with Ant and Dec encouraging viewers to share and connect using virtual means, reminding audiences that physical isolation doesn’t have to mean social isolation.

Last night we saw the nation take a moment to show their appreciation for our carers by raising our hands and clapping loudly through our open doorways or windows of our homes. 

A total of 7.5m viewers were tuned in to BBC1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 at 8 pm last night, when all 3 channels showed live coverage of the #clapforourcarers round of applause taking place across the country.  Of those, 5.7m watched on BBC1, tuning in just before an episode of Question Time. 1m of this audience switched on just to watch the applause coverage.  This really demonstrates the power of TV to bring a nation together as a force for good.

Video On Demand – quality content versus streaming quality

Analysis of non-linear television usage by BARB, suggests a ten-minute daily increase of VOD viewing week on week and we expect this to keep growing.  In the same vein as linear TV, video platforms across the broadcasters and YouTube are helping support the community with valuable news and content to help keep us all informed and connected as we #StayHome. 

News content has delivered record numbers on VOD.  Channel 4 News, which has the largest social media following of any UK news programme, has attracted 23m viewers on YouTube in the last week, with half aged between 16 and 34.  Similar to TV, we are witnessing the use of VOD to feel good and support new ways of living.  YouTube has reported c. 50% year on year watch time increases across each of the following categories: workout at home, study at home and home cooking.  Fitness influencer Joe Wicks has gone global providing virtual PE classes through a live stream on YouTube, the first episode on over 4m viewers globally.

With increasing numbers of people now reliant on home wi-fi systems, YouTube and Netflix have agreed to reduce streaming quality to help support internet capacity. Both platforms will be limiting streaming to Standard Definition only, time will tell whether this will impact consumption, with Netflix forecasting traffic will reduce by 25%.

The well-timed launch of Disney+ will likely see further increases in SVOD consumption.  Reviews have been very positive, with consumers impressed by the sheer size of the available content library. It not only covers Disney’s entire library of animation classics and TV shows, but also all the films by subsidiary studios Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars.   However, it’s not all positive from a viewers perspective, fans have been disappointed by the decision to stagger the release of the new series Star Wars Mandalorian in the UK.  The staggered approach is seemingly a ploy to reduce churn and maintain its product stickiness with consumers, whilst its discounted price for annual subscriptions will aim to lock consumers in.

Cinema – brought to your home

Odeon, Cineworld and Picturehouses across the UK are now closed.  In a bid to help the nation continue to enjoy planned popular releases, Sky has announced it will partner with Universal to release films on its box at the same time as their global premieres.

It will begin on April 6 with DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour, the sequel to the 2016 hit film, starring Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake.  Originally due to launch in cinemas at Easter, families will now be able to watch it from the comfort of their own home.  More films are expected to be released early on Sky Store, Amazon Prime and more in the coming weeks if cinemas remain closed.

Audio – a growing source of positive impact

According to Bauer, 17% of UK citizens are listening to radio more since social distancing was made mandatory last week, with 63% agreeing that radio improves their mood.   

Across Bauers portfolio, daily reach has increased by 6%, with the average daily hours increasing by 3% week on week.    Podcasting is also on the rise, DAX has reported podcast listening up 10% across the last two weeks, with categories such as News & Politics (+15%) and Curious Thinkers (+11%) driving this.

Radio stations are reacting to the increased listenership by adapting their content.  Magic’s Home Workouts and Hit Radio’s Ideas to Entertain the Kids are aimed to inspire and help people create new routines.  We’ve seen a shift to virtual alternatives with initiatives such as Absolute’s Self Isolation Quiz and Magic’s Book Club #ShelfIsolation! 

Media as a force for good is also apparent in audio.  The need to support the music community is greater than ever, and station brands are taking responsibility, Jazz FM has launched an initiative to support Jazz musicians and the music industry.  Meanwhile, Bauer has embraced the ‘clap for carer’s initiative, with presenters across the network getting behind it via news bulletins.  Bauer has also launched an urgent appeal with Cash for Kids, helping raise money for families who have been hit hard by the virus.

Newsbrand Publishers – an essential service in increasing demand

Newsbrands have been a core medium for essential British businesses to communicate critical messaging this week, whilst content has been focused on supporting readers with tactics for lockdown survival and support for those on the front line tackling COVID 19.  Journalism is considered an essential service, therefore newspaper and magazine delivery drivers have been given key worker status and printing is set to continue.  

The commuter press has seen the biggest circulation changes over the last week. The Evening Standard and The Metro have both taken quick and positive steps to ensure they continue to reach as many readers as possible.  Metro is now distributing 463k copies daily across bus and rail nationally, -65% versus usual circulation. The Evening Standard has committed to delivering 500,000 copies daily, -35%, by way of home delivery, retail outlets and continued vendor/drop bin presence.

Titles have continued to see spikes in subscriptions. To ensure people can still receive their papers, news brands have worked collaboratively to solve the challenge of distributing their papers through the current crisis. They have teamed up with www.delivermynewspaper.co.uk to offer subscribers and non-subscribers free home delivery during the crisis, and as a collective has sold an additional 20,000 copies.

Last week something quite brilliant and unprecedented happened within local media. Reach joined forces with other local publishers Archant, JPI Media and Newsquest to launch the #ThereWithYou campaign, reassuring readers that their local title will be there to support them in challenging times.

Approximately 80 local newspapers throughout the UK, from Cornwall to Cumbria published the same front page, urging their communities to pull together in response to the coronavirus epidemic. The initiative, which was a first for local media, was picked up across national and regional broadcast outlets, with coverage appearing across Newsnight, Good Morning Britain, BBC News, Sky News and R4 Today.

All of the news brand websites have seen increases in unique visitors week on week, ranging from 18 – 39%. Page visits across the news brands are also going through the roof as the demand for trusted informed content has never been greater.  The profile of these new users is younger with the biggest growth in traffic amongst the 18-24 age bracket, up 29% over the last week. 

This week media industry bodies (Advertising Association, Society of Editors, ISBA, IPA, AOP, IAB, NMA and Newsworks) came out in support of the news brands, campaigning for advertisers to ‘Back Don’t Block British Journalism’.  One of the unintended consequences of blocking ‘Coronavirus’ as part of blanket blocking technology means that Newsbrands are unable to realise revenue against this surge in engagement.

Magazine Publishers – providing a welcome distraction

Magazine purchase has shifted away from travel points in favour of retailers, circulation was up 7% week commencing 9th March and we anticipate greater growth post lockdown. People staying indoors has resulted in a 100-200% increase in magazine subscription sales year on year.

Uplifts in unique users on digital platforms are up 20-40% with a focus on food, fitness and entertainment. The Radio Times website is seeing unique user uplifts of 26% week commencing 16th March. 

Consumers are seeking content which is light-hearted as an antidote to a challenging news agenda as well as more practical lifestyle pieces around the current world order for individuals and families. Magazine publishers are well placed to deliver on this content, especially at a time when consumers can focus on their passions (eg cycling, cooking).   

Hearst is delivering on their ‘Power of Positivity’ positioning with editorial pieces such as ‘5 ways that you can help others’ (Harpers) and ‘How to Deep Clean Your House’ (Good Housekeeping).

Out of Home – staggering supermarket sales are powering proximity

With new government restrictions in place across the UK to combat the spread of COVD-19, mobility is limited. Roadside & Bus exteriors continue to deliver audiences as people shop for groceries, take exercise and key workers continue to travel to and from their places of work, but undoubtedly reach is on the decline with fewer people out and about. 

The focus for out of home audiences now is proximity – specifically to Supermarkets and Grocery retail. Grocery home delivery services are currently at capacity meaning in-store footfall remains exceptionally high creating opportunities for brands beyond FMCG.  Media owners with Supermarket POS panels are noticing extremely high occupancy into April and digital roadside in proximity has become a sure-fire way to maintain audience levels in the current climate.

Out of home media owners are also getting behind the campaign to combat COVID 19, digital sites are being used to offer support to NHS staff, remind audiences of current Covid-19 advice and inform the elderly and at-risk groups of dedicated shopping hours.

Search & PPC – planning for the future is vital

Unsurprisingly PPC investment continues to fall. The main drivers last week were travel companies, but this week it’s been a lot more widespread.  Monday night’s ‘lockdown’ has meant advertisers who require visits to their stores or showrooms (automotive, high street retailers) or who need to visit people’s homes (boiler inspections, building work) have been hit particularly hard.  

We are, however, seeing huge growth in searches for activities such as gardening which is up 163% since the 19th March, fitness where searches for ‘how to squat’ and ‘Joe Wicks’ are up 550% and 350% respectively and ‘homeschooling’ which rose by 1900% but was quickly overtaken by searches for ‘wine’.  

Paid Social – balancing the need to keep us connected with misinformation 

A key strategy now for advertisers is in assessing whether you are capturing demand through your organic results and ensuring you provide visitors with useful experiences which give you permission to re-engage when the time is right. This can mean using PPC to provide alternative journeys (where required) in order to create new lists of prospects.  Think about how you stay relevant for the increasing searches, it’s not about making spurious connections, but if you have advice for people in these uncertain times and you don’t rank organically then this is where PPC can be an incredibly powerful tool.  It can help you quickly engage with people who are looking to you for advice and who might, in return, be more inclined to buy from you in the future.  

Social media has become central to keeping people in touch with family, friends and the wider world. This dependence has resulted in a considerable increase in the amount of time being spent on social media, with Twitter reporting that nearly a third of its UK users have increased the amount of time spent on the platform.

The guidance to self-isolate has also seen an explosion within a niche of apps that provide users with the ability to communicate with their friends and family in a group setting.

One app, in particular, Houseparty, has seen a percentage of growth in users of over 300% according to the Financial Times. The app focused on ‘enabling shared experiences’, has become the highlight of the sofa surfing user by allowing them to host exercise classes, pub quizzes and dinner parties virtually.

This growth pales in comparison to its nearest competitor, Zoom, which has seen a considerable increase in usage within workplaces as a result of remote working arrangements. A survey of Twitter users in the UK also reveals that they are noticing an increase in their user’s behaviour, with 27% of them using Video Calling services more to communicate with friends and family.

The Platforms have stepped up responsibly by ensuring full support and continuity of the UK Government’s COVID 19 advice and public messaging.  They have created centralised hubs of information to ensure that NHS/Govt advice is not falling out of visibility but also making sure there’s a limit to how much disinformation can leak through.  Snapchat has been identified by the New York Times as one of the key social platforms where there has been little disinformation spread about the COVID-19 outbreak. The platform maintains control over the content it features within the ‘Discovery’ tab, the only part of the app which is distributed at scale.

Week on week, we have seen significant shifts in media consumption following the impact of more stringent COVID 19 measures.  What’s great is that whilst many brands have been forced to change their behaviour as a result of the restrictions put in place and the mood of the nation, media owners and platforms have been able to use the increases in eyeballs and ears as a force for good in tackling the impact COVID 19.  As the UK gets more comfortable (if that’s ever possible!) with the lockdown, it will be interesting to see what the weeks ahead hold for newspaper brands and out of home specifically and, whether AV will maintain the audience gains it has experienced in the last two weeks. 

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 enquiries@wavemakernorth.co.uk or give us a call on 0161 930 9000.