COVID creates an alternate entertainment reality

The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated streaming services, increased audiences for television news and renewed appetites for digital entertainment but there’s no substitute for live entertainment, Deloitte Australia’s annual Media Consumer Survey reveals.

The ninth Media Consumer Survey focuses on consumer behaviours specific to COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions in Australia between March and May this year. The research identified behavioural shifts in media consumption as Australians settled into their homes and digital took a starring role in keeping them informed and entertained, in the absence of live music, sport, cinema and performing arts.

Deloitte Australia Tech, Media & Telco Industry Leader Kimberly Chang said the 2020 survey examines how behaviours shifted as a result of the pandemic, which ones may have a lasting effect and what the intentions of consumers are as restrictions begin to lift.

“While the lockdown period provided acceleration for streaming services, increased audiences for television news and renewed appetites for digital entertainment such as live-streaming, the fact remains there’s no substitute for live entertainment,” she said.

“Our research shows that 2020 will continue to challenge the Australian media and entertainment industry. Yet forcing both audiences and the industry beyond their comfort zone may deliver some of the most innovative and surprising outcomes yet.”

Deloitte National Media Sector Leader Leora Nevezie said this was a time when much of the industry was forced to rely almost solely on digital to reach consumers and audiences, and many perceived limitations and preconceptions were tested.

“The survey gives us an insight into some of the key challenges but also the enormous opportunities ahead, as the media and entertainment industry re-shapes, rebuilds, and reforms,” Ms Nevezie said.

There’s no business like show business – Counting on a comeback

Of the 2,000 Australians surveyed by Deloitte, 53 percent expect to attend live events more frequently post restrictions, compared to pre-pandemic levels but there is likely to be a period of adjustment.

“There are still plenty of challenges ahead with social distancing, reduced capacities, and international border closures,” Ms Nevezie said.

“The good news is Australians love to be entertained and we want to go back to the same levels, if not greater, than post COVID restrictions.”

Thirteen per cent of respondents reported an intended drop in hours spent going to the cinema after restrictions lift. It likely indicates the challenges ahead in swiftly drawing audiences back to physical spaces in significant numbers.

Ms Nevezie said there is a long road ahead, and there is little wonder there is a growing chorus seeking support to revive the out-of-home entertainment scene as the industry starts to recover and has the chance to thrive again.

“As the out-of-home entertainment industry begins to reopen and recover, future audience development will need to take into account factors like trust and perception to meet post COVID-19 expectations, Ms Nevezie said.

“The physical experience of attending in-person events, not just the ‘main act’ itself, will be more important than ever.”

The tide turns for streaming

The effect of COVID-19 has also exposed a lot of opportunities to engage differently with audiences, Ms Nevezie said.

Live-streaming experienced heightened popularity as typically out-of-home events had no choice but to shift to a screen within our homes. Twenty-three per cent of respondents said they had live-streamed during lockdown and 50 percent of these did so for the first time ever.

Fourteen per cent of respondents livestreamed music events. However, only seven percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay for live-streamed music gigs and performances, while 18 percent said they might for the right one.

“The numbers are not discouraging and there is plenty of room for growth, but in the immediate future, it’s important to realise just how essential the live element is for both audiences and the industry,” Ms Nevezie said.

“For most artists live-streaming revenues in the immediate future are unlikely to compare to live performances as a ‘revenue headline act.’ But as a support act, they could be an excellent tool for remaining connected with their fan base and even reaching a whole new virtual audience.”

Silver screen to light up again

Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to watch a movie at the cinema compared to just three percent of people who want to watch a film at the same time as a cinema release for more than the cost of a ticket.

Waiting three to six months to watch it on a paid subscription service was the clear paid home viewing favourite, with 26 percent of all respondents favouring this option, where Trailing Millennials and Leading Millennials were particular fans at 34 percent and 42 percent respectively.

Ms Nevezie said this highlights the commercial challenges of premium video-on-demand in price points and consumer expectations, but also our enduring love of the cinema experience.

“The appetite for home viewing is certainly there, but Australian consumers now seem to associate home viewing with cheaper all-you-can-eat subscription services rather than paying premium prices,” she said.

“A night out to see the latest blockbuster on the big screen continues to be worth the price of admission.”

Sport – more than a game

Australia is a nation of sporting fans, with 47 percent of respondents indicating prior to restrictions they actively followed sports on a weekly basis. On average, sports fans spent nearly six hours watching sport per week.

Ms Nevezie said without live sport to watch, time spent watching sports halved to two-and-a-half hours per week, with the number of respondents actively following sport on a weekly basis dropping from 46 percent to 25 percent.

“Respondents expected their in-home viewing habits to return to exactly the same levels as pre COVID-19 (6 hours per week) once all restrictions are lifted, and early indications suggest this is indeed beginning to play out as many sports begin to return in some form.”

Without live sport to watch in attendance or through broadcasts, fans turned elsewhere to fill their time. Fifty per cent of fans instead spent time keeping up with breaking news, 33 percent spent extra time with family and friends, 32 percent exercised and 31 percent watched previously released shows and movies.

But few fans reported replacing in-home sport watching time with alternative sporting content – 14 percent of fans indicated they turned to previously aired games or documentaries, six percent to eSports and two percent to virtual sporting events.

“While it would be easy to simply observe that non-live sporting content was unable to maintain the engagement of live sport during this period, it has also highlighted the opportunity for the Australian sports industry in broadening and maturing adjacent fan experiences,” Ms Nevezie said.

“With sport likely to feel the COVID-19 effects in the live context for some time, it’s a challenge that will remain relevant, and the right propositions could be critical in supporting clubs and leagues through this period.”

‘Isoscriptions’ and ‘polystreaming’ relationships

It comes as little surprise viewers turned to streaming during lockdown, with a 39 percent increase in the hours spent watching paid movie and television streaming services.

Australia’s love of video streaming services continued to grow, with 55 percent of respondents having at least one paid video streaming service in their household. It represents continued growth but at a slower rate than in previous years.

Lockdown created an appetite for ‘Isoscriptions’ when 10 percent of respondents signed up to a new streaming video service during this particular period. This was almost double among those who already had at least one service, where 17 percent of those added an additional one.

Forty-six per cent of video streamers now have at least two paid subscriptions, and 16 percent have three or more.

Ms Nevezie said this hints future growth will come from the addition of new services by existing subscribers, and whether they maintain these ‘polystreaming relationships’.

“Where there was once debate as to whether Australia could sustain more than one or two video streaming services, this leaves little doubt of the consumer demand for multiple services,” she said.

But trading one service for another or cancelling a subscription altogether is a relatively easy prospect for households and for services to continue to grow, the depth and recency of content will be important, with 61 percent of respondents and 55 percent of respondents ranking them in their top three factors respectively.

Ms Nevezie said it could be an ideal time to tap into local content to boost content libraries and retain subscriptions.

“In a time where impact has never felt more global, sentiment has turned local and sentiment for Australian screen content remains strong.

“Thirty-four per cent of respondents said ‘it’s at least very important to be able to access Australian movie content’, a sentiment that holds true for Australian factual TV (40 percent) and TV drama (32 percent).”

News: 2020s must-see TV

With the events of 2020, from bushfires to COVID, Australians binged on news content updates on the small screen and social channels, reflected in an overall increase in all news sources across all demographics during lockdown.

“Press conferences became appointment viewing during lockdown and television was the biggest winner with 90 percent of respondents using it to get news,” Ms Nevezie said.

Of the survey respondents 66 percent used television as a daily news source and more than a third used it multiple times a day.

“Increased watching of television news was consistent across all demographics, with more than 41 percent reporting using television more as a source of news.”

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