Consumption and Production Impacts on TV and Video Streaming under Lockdown

Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

Unsurprisingly the UK government opted to extend lockdown for a further three weeks last week, and today will mark the first full month of lockdown for UK consumers. In the US 95% of the population is now under lockdown, and globally 25% of consumers remain officially home-bound. The impacts on video have been dramatic, as was discussed during the COVID-19 Impact on Entertainment Demand and Behaviours webinar held last Wednesday. The areas discussed cover both short- and long-term impacts of this unprecedented experiment in shaping accelerated entertainment consumption.

TV and video viewing are booming in lockdown

One of the big wins for media has been the recent unlocking of additional untapped entertainment time due to the absence of the daily commute and the cessation of outdoor entertainment. MIDiA Research calculates that lockdown has provided the consumer with an additional 15% of time available for consuming media at home. This has reversed the great secular trend of the last year towards peak attention. Suddenly digital media services now have untapped attention to monetise, creating a potential attention gold rush for the new direct-to-consumer (D2C) entrants of Disney+, Apple TV+, Peacock and HBO Max to contest for. As Disney’s announcement last week of passing the 50 million subscriber mark attests, a broadening attention market has benefitted broadcast TV, seeing dramatic engagement increases – in the UK alone, 56% of consumers are watching more TV since lockdown began on March 23rd (source: MIDiA Research COVID-19 Impact Snapshot Survey). 

The COVID-19 programming distortion 

An early casualty of lockdown was the cessation of TV production and the desire to bypass the theatrical release window and go straight to consumers as both production and cinema-going became impossible under lockdown. The result has been the rise of pandemic programming as distribution services find that they have to make commission budgets stretch further – either through lower-cost production formats such as factual/true crime series Tiger King, or through episodic releases as with The Mandalorian. The big winners in this rationalisation of original content will be the media majors with libraries deep enough to hide gaps in original programming. This will be felt most keenly by linear TV, which has been outcompeted in content commissioning beyond prime-time viewing, and by the early subscription video on demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix that have weaponised scripted drama as their key audience acquisition strategy.

The intended bypassing of theatrical releases for titles such as Disney’s live action remake Mulan and superhero feature Black Widow means that previously distinct distribution verticals have been fundamentally disrupted. The result is the erosion of the premium value proposition of streaming services and the long-term impact on the entire first-window release strategy for media majors such as Disney, which will be able to leverage their integrated production and direct-to-consumer assets to retain more of the marketing hype around new releases, strengthening long-term engagement with mainstream consumers. If the media majors decide to follow the Amazon route and retain exclusivity of streamed feature films, then the knock-on effect for first-wave SVOD services will be profound – forcing them to make tough commissioning choices around doubling down on existing commissioning strengths such as scripted drama and factual.

Lockdown is therefore turning out be the beginning of accelerated fundamental change for TV, film and D2C.

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