Blog: Now is the Winter of our Content

Content consumption is at an all-time high. Does that mean more, or less opportunity for brands?

By: Sarah Ivey

The nights are getting longer, and as we face down another winter of restrictions, a question that’s bubbling at the back of our minds is: “How are we going to get through this?”

As the pandemic wears on, our daily lives have become in a strange way, predictable. We can all relate to “You’re on mute.” New words have entered our vocabularies, like “maskne”. Pants have become, well, optional. We all miss the same things: spending time with friends and family, travelling, eating in a restaurant, watching a game, going to the movies.

One of the common experiences we share is that we’re all spending more time with media. Overall time spent per day has been on a slight downward trajectory. However, according to eMarketer, 2020 has seen that rebound with Canadians spending an additional half hour a day with media. In the U.S. that time spent bump is even higher at an additional hour a day.

In a way, it’s never been a better time to be in the content business. There were channels and industries that took a big hit and continue to struggle, like out of home, events, cinema and transit. At home media consumption, however, has had a heyday. Conventional television has seen a rebound, particularly as live sports partially returned. Streaming of course is a massive winner. Social didn’t pick up additional users – it was already pretty saturated, but eMarketer estimates usage has picked up over 8%. Gaming is having a spectacular year, with August sales to date tracking at a 23% vs YAG (NPD Group).

Podcasts continue to pick up steam, in spite of the lack of commuting. Canada now leads the world in podcast listening, both in time spent and weekly listening, only slightly ahead of the U.S. (Infinite Dial Report/Edison Research). Books – remember them? Up 2.8% for the first half of 2020 (Publishers Weekly). Audiobooks are up by 16% as well (Audio Publishers Association). Music revenues are up – on the strength of streaming – 5.6% for the first half of 2020 (Recording Industry Association of America).

Will this winter bring more of the same, that warm and fuzzy feeling of being surrounding by great content?  If what happens in my own home is any indication, yes. During the months to come, I see media consumption high and mostly solo – everyone listening, watching, playing, reading, according to their preferences.

Does that mean more opportunity, or less, for media experts and the brands they represent? As always, it’s a two-sided coin. More time with media? Hallelujah! More time in the world of ad-free algorithmic services? The air comes out of the tires.

What’s happening in media is part of a wider social phenomenon, accelerated by COVID-19. As we rely more on online services – whether it’s an Amazon recommendation engine, or Friend Suggestions, a New Music playlist on Apple or the “For You” stream on TikTok, we are increasingly surrounding ourselves in algorithms.

Here’s, however, the inspiration that’s getting me through these times. What happens in a world run by algorithms is that the algorithms feed you what you already like. Guess what happens when people get too much of what they already like? They get bored. Literally, “There’s nothing to watch.”

What will become increasingly rare is that feeling of discovery. And when something is rare, it has great emotional weight. When a moment lifts us out of a routine, it becomes instantly memorable – whether that’s a great cultural moment, or a new product, or a heart-warming news story. New thinking and new ideas – even small ones – I believe will have much larger impact than they had before.

So here’s my thinking for the “Winter of our Content” that’s fast approaching us: by all means let’s ride the wave of increased media usage throughout this time. But let’s never lose sight – or the opportunity – to create or be part of those moments of discovery.

Sarah Ivey is the CEO, and founder of Agents of Necessity Inc., a scrappy communications strategy agency based in Toronto.