DIRECT MEDIA United Solutions
Author: Danko Kardović, Research Manager, DIRECT MEDIA United Solutions
When I finished the analysis “TV in 2020”, that I wrote last December, with the sentence “2020 will be a very interesting year for television”, I couldn’t even assume the magnitude of the coming changes and the effects thereof on media consumption. Had anyone told me that the average time that we spend in front of the television set in Serbia on daily basis would go up by almost two hours and that older target groups (55+ years) would spend almost ten and a half hours, I would have said that it’s impossible. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely affected our lives and especially TV consumption.
TV in Serbia and the region
The growth of average time viewed (ATV) in Serbia was more than 22% in the second part of March, relative to the first part of the same month (Arinna, Nielsen). As on March 22, we spent a record breaking 8 hours and 16 minutes watching TV. When we compare the second part of March year-on-year, ATV grew more than 30% (Graph 1). The data show that time viewed grew the most among younger target groups (4-14 and 15-24). It was somewhat expected that time viewed was going to grow the most in the 10-16h slot, since many people during the pandemic remain in their homes (working from home, kids not going to school, curfiew for elderly citizens…). Catch up TV doubled during the state of emergency. As expected, the ratings of news programs, as well as educational content grew the most during the state of emergency. The public address of the President of Serbia on March 15 posted record ratings, joining the top 5 most watched programs in the last 15 years. The situation in April is similar, whereas there is a slight decrease of the average daily time viewed relative to the record-breaking first half of March. Internet traffic also grew in the first days of the state of emergency; as on March 22, almost 64 million Internet pages were opened, which is a 44% increase compared to the first day of March (Gemius). According to Ipsos, print and radio have seen a decrease of their daily ratings and weekly reach in the second half of March. All countries in the region have seen a situation similar to the one Serbia, with a sharp increase of TV ratings during the state of emergency/curfiew.
Streaming platforms in the USA ahead of television
According to Comscore, the situation in the US in terms of television ratings is similar to the one in Serbia and the region. All major broadcasters/networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC have seen a major increase of their ratings by more than 30% year-on-year. Only night ratings have plunged, while all daily slots have gone up. In these difficult times, Americans are turning to TV for both news and entertainment. If the pandemic extends over a longer period, TV ratings are expected to grow even more. A few years ago, during the blizzard in NYC, TV ratings skyrocketed by more than 45%. Children channels’ ratings are particularly up since the schools were closed down. As for the ratings of streaming platforms in the US during the pandemic, growth rates are even higher than for Live Television. According to Samba (3,8 million people in the panel), the ratings of streaming platforms are up by more than 40%. According to Nielsen, the ratings of streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video in the last week of March more than doubled year-on-year. In the last week of March 2020, Nielsen has recorded 161,4 billion minutes spent by people watching streaming platforms, compared to 69,8 billion minutes in the same period last year. In the third week of March, people spent a record 168,7 billion minutes watching streaming platforms. According to Nielsen, people spent the most time with the following series on streaming platforms: “All American”, “The Office” and “Boss Baby: Back in Business”.
According to Netgem TV, which operates in the UK and Ireland, TV ratings have increased by more than 40% in these two countries. That is another extra hour of time viewed daily.
What is new TV normal?
March 2020 has see certain developments that were unimaginable in late 2019. The providers and the media have opened their premium content to all users, unlocking all channels that normally were available only in extra paid packages. SBB was among the first in the region to do it and almost all domestic operators followed suit. Media companies around the world unlocked their premium content for all users, completely or partially: Comcast, AT&T and Chapter opened Showtime on Demand for all users, the Croatian streaming service Pickbox Now enabled free usage of its platform in the entire Adriatic Region,Virgin Media unlocked its seven premium children channels free of charge to all users, as well as free access to Sky One, Sky Sports Mix and Sky Comedy (14 million subscribers will be able to access this content for free), Sky Deutschland unlocked its channels Sky Cinema and Sky Entertainment for one month, Russian-based Trikolor also unlocked its premium content, Sling TV launched a new free channel that will provide news about the pandemic, Fox Corp allowed during the pandemic free access to Fox News, Canal + also made all its content free for all users, Disney+ announce it will air “Frozen 2” in April instead of June… Sling TV introduced “Happy Hours” during the pandemic, every day from 17h to midnight, for all users to watch free of charge. Both operators and media companies will benefit from the unlocking of free channels. After the pandemic ends, many users that didn’t have access to premium channels will stay tuned in the new channels and content, they will continue paying the subscription fee. Another important aspect is that media companies will have captured new data brought about by new users. The data of many users will offer new insights and market information on conversion rates, thereby supplementing the existing data. Media networks and operators, together with their new users, can try out new methods of marketing various advertising messages, which may help them improve customer experience.
Big media companies started during the pandemic to break the set norms concerning the premieres of their blockbusters. DreamWorks’s animated movie “Trolls World Tour” had its premiere on April 10 and was available the same evening for video on demand rental for 19,99 dolars for a 48-hour viewing period. The period between the box office premiere and VOD used to be between 2 and 3 months. Today, when the movie theatres are closed, instant premieres on VOD seem to be the solution. Major studios have announced they will take this path with their editions during the pandemic. While time will tell whether this will remain the preferred option after the pandemic, analysts say that income from the VOD premieres will hardly be enough to make up for the profits lost from cancelled box office premieres.
NBC Universal started to broadcast during the pandemic the “Stay-In Theater”, an in-home movie rental option. During these “family movie nights”, the number of commercials in ad slots will be drastically reduced to allow for a smoother and more enjoyable experience. On April 10, NBC Universal premiered its Stay-In Theater with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets The sponsor of the first Stay-In Theater was Target and the commercials time was reduced from the average 35 minutes to one minute and 15 seconds. In April, NBC will air on Fridays and Saturdays the Stay-In Theater on its channels. We will see whether such a practice will remain after the pandemic.
Major media companies are still active during the pandemic. Fox has acquired the ad-supported streaming platform Tubi for 440 million dollars, after it has sold its share in Rox. Comcast and Fox have entered into a new distribution agreement. AMC has launched in the UK its new streaming platform Acorn TV. The new mobile-based streaming platform Quibi was launched in Canada and the US and has posted more than one million downloads in the first week.
The pandemic will most definitely also affect production companies involved in the production of video content. Many such companies have suspended the production of video content for the duration of the pandemic. You have certainly heard that the Friends Reunion has been postponed and the filming thereof didn’t start in late March as initially planned. The highly anticipated program was supposed to be premiered on the new HBO Max platform to be launched in May 2020. The new James Bond premiere was also postponed, as was the filming of the blockbuster shows Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty. Production companies have found themselves in a tight spot, since, at a time of record ratings, they are not able to quickly produce new high-quality content.
We have more news for you from the world of television, so be sure to check out the second part of this text next week.
It should be re-emphasized that the current pandemic has significantly affected the future of television, video industry and streaming platforms.
March is always a very important month for television and this March was special due to the pandemic. Every March abounds with sports broadcasts, new programming grids are presented in March, new programs are premiered and intensive negotiations are launched on broadcasting rights for the current year. TV ratings in March and April skyrocketed all around the world. Will media companies and providers make the most of these record numbers? Most advertisers have postponed their campaigns despite such unprecedented numbers. This spring is also important in the battle between streaming platforms (Disney+ started in Europe and India, Quibi also started in Canada and the US and HBO Max and Peackok are expected to follow suit).
The month of March will especially leave a deep mark on the TV industry. One cannot predict for sure what will be the effects, but we can most definitely expect consequences on TV program production. We will see the ramifications of the pandemic for exclusive content production.
At the end of this article, I will repeat once again that “2020 will be a very interesting year for television. Let’s fetch some popcorn and our favorite drink, make ourselves comfortable and see what’s coming in the second half of 2020.”