For the past two weeks, thoughts of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” have been running through my head. The setting seems a fitting parallel to what we are facing now that COVID-19 is officially a pandemic. I have to admit, I’ve not read the book, but it is on my list. Perhaps it’s something I will get to now that Illinois’ Stay-at-Home order has curtailed my weekend activities.
Most Americans are reaching for the remote, not a book. Nielsen projects television usage to increase by up to 60% during this pandemic. We are already seeing the beginning of the trend. For the week of March 11, TV usage in Seattle increased by 11% from the prior week. Nielsen defines TV usage as including live television, on-demand viewing, streaming, and gaming,
In a world facing a deadly virus, media fills a void. News outlets can provide information about new regulations and the progress of the disease. More importantly, media offers options for people who want to escape the updates. A current White Paper from Whip Media Group’s TV Time called “Social Distancing and Streaming” indicates that about 84% of consumers who are isolating themselves plan to increase their TV consumption and indulge in binge watching behaviors. Interestingly, no one said they intended to decrease their television usage.
The greatest percentage of those surveyed by TV Time (86%) said they intended to watch shows on their watch list. That was followed by 73% who said they were looking to escape from reality and 72% who wanted to laugh. Fifty-three percent (53%) said they wanted something comforting. Only 20% said they would be looking to stay informed about the crisis.
Media Companies Adapt
Just as quarantines were being initiated, the Walt Disney Co. announced it was adding its hit animated film “Frozen 2” to Disney+ in the U.S. now, instead of waiting the three months originally planned. It’s a welcome new entertainment diversion for homebound families with children.
Several streaming companies are also either offering free trials or extensions to their normal trial periods. A Slate article titled “The Streaming Services You Can Watch for Free While You’re Stuck Inside” includes familiar names like Showtime, Sundance Now, Starz, and Sling TV, all of which are offering 30-day free trials. In addition, NPR reports that the NHL (National Hockey League), NBA (National Basketball Association), and NFL (National Football League) are all planning to stream classic games.
For fans of America’s pastime, March 26th was MLB’s “Opening Day at Home” during which the league used all of its options to air 30 different games – one win per team.
To satisfy that ballpark craving once Opening Day 2020 is a memory, PBS is offering free streaming of Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary “Baseball.” In addition, MLB.tv is streaming all games from the 2018 and 2019 regular season; it is also offering some games on YouTube.
This may also be an opportunity for new streaming services. Quibi, short for “quick bites” of video, is set to launch April 6 with 51 shows. The company, run by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, offers content in segments of 10 minutes or less. A potential audience of self-quarantined viewers more eager for distraction might be an unanticipated boon for this new service. Let’s just hope we are long past the quarantine period when NBCU’s Peacock launches on July 15th.
Media Rises to the Occasion
I am pleased to be able to say that media companies are rising to the occasion. In a March 24th interview with NCTA’s Michael Powell, Cablefax reported on the industry’s strong response to support the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which is meant to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity during this crisis. Industry companies are also opening up their Wi-Fi hotspots to allow free public use.
Going a step beyond, several internet service providers are offering free or discounted internet service for new customers. The site HighSpeedInternet.com has a useful guide to offers from the various media industry providers. Early results (see Cablefax for March 26) indicate that operators are seeing a big increase in service requests. And, a big shout-out to Charter for extending its free service offer to educators who are not current customers.
Earlier this month, Dish and Cox Media Group announced that they are suspending their retransmission consent dispute to allow subscribers to get news, information, and network content from Cox’s ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox affiliates. The agreement covers stations in 10 markets where the stations have been blacked out since Jan. 18.
All in all our industry is putting its best foot forward as we all struggle to adapt to new realities. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, we will remember this moment in history as “Media Gives Love in the Time of the Coronavirus.” In the meantime, please take care of yourself and make time to celebrate your contributions that are making the world a little better place.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at email@example.com and via the association’s LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook sites.