Netflix parties. Zoom conferences. Toilet paper hoarding. Everyone is coping a little bit differently but, perhaps for the first time, people all over the world are dealing with the same set of circumstances as we fight this pandemic.
Whether you’re plowing through a TV bucket list, pursuing TikTok stardom, or building an Animal Crossing empire, chances are you’re getting a bit more screen time in. Thanks to social distancing, content consumption and creation are changing. Here are the top eight trends, and what they could mean for the future of the digital entertainment industry.
How COVID-19 is changing content consumption
- Video streaming is dominating. With nowhere to go, many people now embrace a lifestyle of binge-watching and sweatpants. Streaming platforms, in particular, have seen record increases in traffic that have motivated Netflix and YouTube to lower bitrates to keep content rolling. In a similar vein, the New York Times reported that American spending on video streaming has increased roughly 40 percent. With movie theaters closed, The Academy has even decided to allow streaming-only movies to qualify for the Oscars.
- Cable companies are losing viewers but demand for bandwidth is rising. The latest statistics show that 58 percent of consumers report watching more online TV, with linear TV lagging behind. This is less than surprising, given that the most compelling cable TV categories include sports and live television — both of which are not happening. However, even as cable TV loses popularity, demand for broadband continues to climb. This is the soul of the new economy, for work and for play.
- Mobile streaming is losing ground to television. The media industry has long emphasized the expanding role of mobile devices compared to TV and desktop. But as mobile-only streaming platform Quibi discovered, people prefer the big screen when they’re stuck at home. The short-form video platform, which launched mid-pandemic, had to pivot when users requested a TV viewing option. It quickly launched an iPhone casting feature, with support for Android now in the works.
- People are embracing virtual experiences. Many of us now work in virtual offices, engage in virtual workouts, and attend virtual classes. The Netflix Party extension, which enables people to virtually co-watch content and chat in real-time, has surged in popularity. Social media platforms have also become conduits for virtual experiences, such as DJ dance parties, streamed concerts, and even rap battles.
- Creative activities have an edge on passive entertainment. For some, the coronavirus lockdown has been a chance for reflection and self-development. Others (notably Gen Z and millennials) are leaning into content creation on platforms like YouTube and TikTok. Some TikTok videos have even been canonized in pop culture, such as this rap, which was later produced into a pandemic anthem by Tyga. Video games have also seen a significant increase in engagement. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released just in time for lockdown — according to the New York Times, it’s “the Game for the Coronavirus Moment.”
3 ways COVID-19 is affecting content creation
- Remote studios are the new standard. Home studios are the new normal in the age of COVID-19. Late-night talk shows, like Trevor Noah’s The Daily Social Distancing Show, now broadcast from stars’ living rooms. Zoom-based talk shows, like Oprah Talks COVID-19, have also become more common. These shows feel authentic and relatable, offering a sense of solidarity in uncertain times. Remote filming will likely continue for months to come until restrictions are lifted in New York and Los Angeles, the two major entertainment capitals.
- DIY creators are taking center stage. As major studios put filming on pause, content creation is becoming much more democratized than before. Creation was already highly accessible on YouTube and TikTok, and now both platforms report record engagement.
- Creators are experimenting with new digital mediums. People are more receptive to new mediums during this time when the production of blockbuster films is on hold. Already, the CBS show Tooning Out the News pivoted its production style and workflow to include animation and Zoom interviews. Undoubtedly, we will see more innovative digital experiences emerge from this period. There has been a massive uptick in engagement with user-generated content on YouTube. These may be the best storytellers of tomorrow.
What should we expect moving forward
As people begin to slowly venture outdoors again, some of these trends will fade, but others are more likely to have staying power.
- Couch will be king: Gone are the days of theaters. Most people will prefer to be entertained from their couch, and we will see more content streaming directly to peoples’ homes.
- Storytelling will be democratized: With the creative community out of work, content production will undoubtedly slow. Consumers have already started to venture outside their comfort zones, creating content themselves and consuming varying styles of content. The creative community will expand to provide a cultural oasis in this time of crisis via platforms like Youtube, TikTok, and Facebook.
- Animated shows will offer a welcome distraction. Animation studios will help fill the content void, as animated shows are well suited for remote production done digitally from homes. LA Magazine reports that shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers plan to use a program called Toon Boom to work remotely. Netflix’s Big Mouth has started doing virtual table reads. Already, shows have begun to incorporate timely references to the virus — this promo for Solar Opposites, a new Hulu show, explains the six stages of social distancing.
- Cross-cultural exploration will increase: When the South Korean film Parasite won the Oscar for best picture last year, it was clear that entertainment was already on a global trajectory. Now, as viewers search for new content, they are more inclined to explore foreign TV and film. We may also see more interest in real-time translation technology, as featured in Google’s Pixel Buds.
- VR & AR anyone: I have never been a big believer in this area, but I am ready to be proven wrong! If you cannot meet people and socialize in person, then why not in the virtual world?
While screens will continue to fill the void left by social interaction, some of these trends hint at a silver lining that will far outlast the health threat. Less time on phones could mean more family movie nights. A surge in DIY creation could amplify fringe voices. An extra dose of cartoons could help us not to take everything so seriously. Humans will keep telling stories throughout it all, with whatever tools are available. Stories bring us together, even when we’re apart.