How COVID-19 shook up the media world — and what it means to you.

AUDIO: How COVID-19 shook up the media world — and what it means to you.

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When the coronavirus upended American life in mid-March, the media industry also underwent sudden and dramatic shifts.

Millions of people quickly overhauled their media consumption habits to fit a new lifestyle of sheltering in place, working from home and practicing social distancing. COVID-19 forced media companies to not only adapt to these sharp changes in audience behavior, but also to cancel or adjust programming due to production challenges.

Here’s how the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. affected three major types of media: TV, radio/podcasts, and social media.


During the first weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns in March, overall TV viewership increased by up to 19 percent, according to Comscore. Large audiences shifted the types of programming they viewed, and some that otherwise might be considered light viewers ramped up their TV content consumption.

The shift in programming consumed is notable because the type of content an advertiser would normally count on to reach a demographic — for example, sports fans — suddenly went away. Advertisers had to quickly pivot to other channels as cancellations sent viewership plummeting.

Media companies also stopped or paused production of new programming, creating uncertainty around Q4 TV viewership estimates that are critical to planning marketing activities.


Radio lost droves of listeners in April and May, when school and business closures caused drastic changes in commuter behavior. Most of the audience losses occurred during morning and afternoon drive time — when the largest numbers of listeners are typically tuned in — but daytime listening also fell. June saw a return to numbers close to March as people went back to work.

Meanwhile, according to GlobalWebIndex and the Harris Poll, web-based radio listening jumped by 23 percent, and podcast consumption grew by 13 percent as audiences leaned into other alternatives for audio content.

Source: Nielsen March-June 2020 PPM / 45 Market Total / M-Su 6a-12M / Persons 12+ / Weekly Cume Persons

Social Media

Social media usage climbed 32 percent after the pandemic hit in March, per GlobalWebIndex. This increase was greatest among Generation Z, which skyrocketed 54 percent.

However, this trend may slow as people return to their pre-COVID lifestyles. In an April 2020 GlobalWebIndex poll, only 9 percent of U.S. internet users ages 16 to 64 said they expected to continue spending more time on social media after the pandemic eases.

Social media had long been trending up as a place for consumers to discover and engage with new brands. During COVID-19, the gap between social media and TV completely closed. They are now tied atop the list of channels for the discovery phase of the consumer journey.

In addition, Gen Z audiences point to Social Media as one of the top places for brand research:

Source: GlobalWebIndex

Impact on the future of media planning

We expect the coronavirus to continue to affect consumer behavior and the media industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Early indications are the media landscape will be forever altered: In the GlobalWebIndex poll, more than 80 percent of respondents said they will carry on at least one of their current media habits or behaviors after the pandemic wanes.

Now more than ever, marketers will need to stay on top of dynamic media consumption trends and be nimble to reach their target audiences.

Want to talk more about trends in media planning and buying? Reach out.

This article was written by Andi McIlwee, Media Director at Performance Marketing.

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