As we enter week 12 of UK lockdown, we’ve seen a significant difference in the lifting of restrictions regionally. With the launch of the NHS Track & Trace app we can now see the impact COVID-19 is having across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This week we widen our focus and look at how media is being consumed across different parts of the country.

TV – London and the Midlands experienced the biggest growth in viewing

During lockdown, TV set viewing has grown by 9% for the whole of the UK in total. The North East and Cumbria were the two regions which had the highest viewing for the first 12 weeks of the year, and they continue to top the charts with the highest viewing in lockdown with viewing increasing between 8% -10%.

The East Midlands and London have seen the highest levels of growth up 13% and 14%. London is the region with the lowest level of total minutes viewed.

Thinkbox have reported the UK Government as the advertiser with the biggest increase of TV exposure YoY throughout the lockdown period. They are up by nearly 1.6 billion individual impacts, meaning their campaigns are the biggest influencers on the market.

If the UK’s regional government messaging continues to be divergent it is likely we’ll continue to see regional buying tactics used in the Government’s TV advertising, as they navigate the different responses of the four nations.

VOD – North East and Cumbria take top spot for streaming

Looking at the average daily minutes of unidentified viewing recorded by BARB (primarily made up of SVOD and Video streaming services), we can see that the North East and Cumbria region takes top place overall, with Wales in the #2 position, both before and during lockdown.

The South East has seen the greatest percentage change in unidentified viewing during lockdown, currently up 61% versus the pre-lockdown level, although, in terms of the number of minutes viewed, the South East ranks ninth out of 14 regions.

Audio -Biggest change in listening habits occurs in the Capital

Since the lockdown was imposed on Monday 23 March, we’ve seen increases in both daily reach and hours listened across digital radio, streamed music and podcasts, as audiences tune in for news updates and to get a sense of escapism.

The biggest shift that the suppliers have seen is the changing behaviour across London city centre and Greater London.

Spotify, who has seen a 31% increase in subscriptions since the lockdown began, have seen decreases in listening in London’s city centre. In March, 28% of their music streams and podcast downloads occurred in the city centre but moving into April this had dropped to 19%. This is partly due to new subscriptions from outside of London but also shows the impact of offices closing and audiences not having to commute into work.

Global Radio, who have been able to track listening through their digital audio network DAX, have seen an increase in daily reach across their portfolio of stations by 25%. Across Greater London, this has increased even further to 33%. The reason Greater London has seen a bigger increase is likely to be the result of audiences no longer needing to travel on the tube, where they don’t get signal to listen to live radio, they can instead listen whilst working from the homes.

OOH – Regional impacts recovering faster

The warm weather coupled with the further easing of lockdown measures has seen roadside OOH audiences recover at their fastest rate for over 10 weeks (an average 35% of normal impact levels now). In fact, the end of May Bank Holiday saw some routes get back to 70% reach of their pre-lockdown traffic levels – 80% outside of London which is recovering at the quickest pace. If we assume that roadside impacts continue to grow at a linear pace, by the end of June roadside impacts will be more than 50% of that pre-lockdown.

It could be that the growth rate becomes exponential however once we consider the restrictions lifted on the 15th June (the retail re-opening). This is however impacts, not reach – the weekly OOH reach will be back to near-normal levels (90%+) by the end of the month. It is also no surprise that England is seeing a greater increase in impact levels across the board (+10%), compared to Wales (+6%) and Scotland (+4%) who have been slower in lockdown easing.

Regional OOH mobility increases can in part be attributed to a greater flow of people to parks and recreational areas. Audience movement to these areas is currently 49% above average.

London has seen a bump in its mobility index in these areas (52.6 vs 48) but these ‘green spaces’ are more prevalent in outer lying areas accessible by car.

For the first time though we are now seeing conurbation audience growth in England, excluding London, exceed that of non-conurbation areas (now up to 30% of pre-lockdown levels). The trend for much of lockdown is for people to shop/stay local but this amplification is extending to regional conurbations and a key factor is people’s use of public transport. The further out from London you go the fewer people, on average, use public transport with a greater percentage choosing to drive as their principal mode of travel.

Over the next few weeks, we could well see more regional differences in audience increases with a general acceptance that London will be slower to recover to pre-lockdown levels (the London Underground audience is still 89% down). Evidence from other European countries further along in their COVID-19 recovery validates this with some capitals (Paris, Madrid) seeing a slower return than other cities/ regions in their respective countries.

News brands – Increased movement is having a positive effect on print circulations

Weekend national newspaper circulations are circa –5% to -10% of pre-COVID-19 and weekday circa –16% though climbing WoW. The imminent return of sport and especially racing is likely to help to boost circulations.

News brand publishers have been heartened by the fact that the ABC circulation numbers have held relatively well in April vs March at –17% on paid titles (-24% if Metro and Evening Standard are included). This is in the context of a reduction of 45-50% OOH traffic for supermarkets and -90-95% on London Underground.

Local print circulations, which have also been suppressed due to reduced movement, are likely to see an increase as lockdown is lifted.

Whilst the data doesn’t exist yet, a Reach survey has highlighted that 85% of adults agree that community spirit is more important than ever and 76% say that local News brands are a big part of this.

While community spirit is high, spikes in digital engagement have been lower than in national media at +18%, Jan v April. However, this is not universal as some larger sites have been seeing spikes, e.g. Manchester Evening News at +38%, Yorkshire Live +98% and Cambridgeshire Live at +92%.

Ecommerce – Thrives outside major cities

Initial analysis in the UK suggests e-commerce sales have increased in more suburbs and the countryside at a greater rate than in cities due to the shift in demographics of e-commerce. 

Pre-COVID e-commerce had a very high level of adoption among the youngest segment of the consumer population (also those most likely to inhabit cities), the over 40 demographic, however, remained more reluctant to engage.

Due to social distancing and bricks and mortar shop closures, this has driven the over-40 demographic to engage with e-commerce at a rate 15% higher than the same time last year, far more than their Millennial and Gen Z counterparts.

PPC – Searches for local amenities rises as lockdown eases

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, searches with a local intent represented 46% of Google’s searches. In fact, people searching for keywords containing ‘near me’ consistently rose since 2015.

Unsurprisingly this dropped drastically when the government introduced lockdown. However, now that lockdown has been eased ‘near me’ searches have returned to early March levels and is at similar levels YoY.

That wraps up another week of insights. If you would like to chat with any of our in-house experts about how to advertise during Coronavirus, please email us at