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Screens Don’t Quarantine: User Behavior in a Pandemic

By Mike Schneider

Trump may have finally acknowledged this is a pandemic, not a hoax. But as usual, the rest of the country has been a few steps ahead — reading news, practicing social distancing, and starting to implement “shelter-in-place” policies.

As peoples’ day-to-day lives continue to change, how they get information, what they pay attention to, and the sources they trust will evolve as well. While many organizations have temporarily hit “pause” on normal business activity, it will be critical for companies large and small to find a way to communicate in the new normal of quarantine lifestyle.

To help brands prepare, we used some of our tools to study how media consumption habits have changed over the past couple weeks.

How we track consumption: We focus on buying the best quality inventory for our clients. To do this, we analyze every available ad impression by format, site, and device, and choose whether or not to bid on it.

The number of available ad impressions broadly reflect media consumption — e..g. if you read 5 news articles instead of 1, you’re generally eligible to see 5x as many ads on that site.

A few takeaways from our analysis:

  • We just keep hitting “refresh” on all our devices. Over the past several years, we’ve seen mobile traffic grow, while laptop/desktop traffic has remained relatively flat or even declined. As more people stay at home, that trend is reversing.
  • Compared to last month, we’re seeing an additional 182 billion additional ad impressions per week — with about 91% of those new impressions on computers. If more cities adopt shelter-in-place orders, we expect this trend to continue.
  • Media consumption is up among all formats — especially audio. Audio consumption has increased by a staggering 4x since mid-February as people increasingly get their news from podcasts and stream music while at home. Video consumption has increased by 1.5x. Nielsen predicts TV viewership will jump by 60%. And, Coronavirus may be the most tweeted about event of all time — meaning people are visiting and staying on social media platforms even more than they were before the outbreak.
  • People rely on top national news sources — but local news gets the biggest bump. We are seeing millions more people flock to CNN and the New York Times each day. But it’s local news sites and publications like Vox and Atlantic — known for data-driven or long-form journalism — who are seeing the largest traffic increases relative to their previous audience sizes.
  • Where are people turning away? Travel, real estate, and sports news websites, of course, are taking a hit. Surprisingly, we are seeing a shift away from TVGuide.com, suggesting that some additional time-at-home may be spent streaming, instead of traditional TV.
  • We have also noticed some interesting partisanship splits: There’s a move away from progressive news like Salon.com, though Fox News consumption has increased sharply.
  • People are paying more attention to ads: Looking across dozens of campaigns across political, corporate, and advocacy verticals, we see nearly a 40% increase in video view rates since February. People may be eager for “normal” content, or just more likely to let that ad play through while at home.

We’re happy to discuss how your brand can best communicate in this time of heightened attention — reach out at info@bpimedia.com.

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