COVID’s Impact on Media Behaviors and Strategies

Key takeaways:

  • Unsurprisingly, media trends were one of the many things upended this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Along with a general increase in media use, traditional TV saw increased usage in the early days of the pandemic, then a decline when restrictions were lifted. Digital, social, and streaming services were also big winners as consumers spent more time at home.
  • SPM’s media team has been keeping an eye on the ebbs and flows of service-line specific searches, as well as telehealth’s growing role in care.

This year, the time consumers spent with media increased by one hour a day. What are you watching, reading, or listening to with your extra hour? The Queens Gambit? Tik Tok? True crime podcasts?

The increase in time spent with media is just one example of the many ways COVID-19 continues to shape media behavior. The impact is directly correlated to rising COVID-19 cases and the restrictions that were implemented in response to the pandemic’s spread. It’s important to understand what shifts happened in the spring with the first round of lockdowns—as well as over the summer and early fall when restrictions were relaxed—to recognize what media habits will look like over the next few months. Here are a few interesting things the SPM media team has seen this year:

  • During the first stay at home orders in March, a surprising “winner” was traditional TV. TV viewership increased during by over six hours a week, primarily due to local news as people were glued to their TV sets seeking health guidance and updates. However, when there were fewer restrictions, viewership declined to even below pre-COVID levels.
  • Other “winners” were digital and social (unsurprisingly–we’ve been spending a lot more time with our phones this year). However, what was particularly interesting is the increase of Connected TV (services like Hulu, Disney plus, and Comcast streaming). Streaming is up across all demographics—about 25% higher than pre-COVID levels. Old favorites like Cheers and Friends were particularly popular among audiences—an indication of peoples’ desire for familiar, funny content to break up the stream of distressing news.
  • And finally, radio: it definitely declined when lockdowns were in place and as people were spending less time in cars, but currently, it’s back to almost pre-COVID levels. People have brought their favorite stations into their homes by streaming them on devices like Alexa and Google Home. For healthcare marketers, the lesson here is that even if your market goes into a lockdown, don’t immediately write radio off from your media plans—it’s an important vehicle to reach essential workers, including your own staff (source).

Along with the trends above, consumer intent on healthcare visitation has shifted this year. We pulled and analyzed search trends in the US, spanning a group of topics from general healthcare to telehealth, and even specific service line keywords like cancer, cardiology, orthopedics, pediatrics, and transplants. We analyzed five years of data, and it is clear that in March 2020, consumer healthcare search behaviors changed drastically.

First, all service line-specific searches plummeted immediately and stayed low throughout the summer. Over the past few months, however, we have seen a rebound in service line searches. But the rebound isn’t uniform. For example, in October, searches for cancer keywords went back to pre-COVID interest levels; while ortho and pediatrics were higher than what we saw in April, they were still lower than pre-COVID levels (source: Google Trends). It's important to continue to monitor these shifts and use them to inform media strategy. 

The pandemic has significantly impacted consumer behavior—and subsequently, marketing and media strategies—in the past few months. The next part of our blog series will explore what tentpole media events marketers should pay attention to in 2021.