As quarantines are implemented throughout the world, users are spending more time on the Internet looking for entertainment options. This makes it, without doubt, the golden age of streaming services and online gaming outlets. But it is also an exciting time for grassroots initiatives, which are flooding the Internet.
As the competition for the audience’s time and money narrows, both companies and influencers/artists will come out from this crisis reinforced. For the former, we will end up talking about the Covid bump, an increase in subscriptions for entertainment platforms similar to the Trump bump experienced by US news outlets in 2016. While for the latter, the impact, we believe, will be more lasting. Individual artists are gaining more visibility online and a more substantial following, as users have more time to spend on social media. When quarantines are over, and we have left the pandemic behind, we will still follow and know those artists, but we may probably cancel our subscriptions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought up numerous questions in the entertainment and media businesses. Fake news content has spread through social media like wildfire (read How Covid-19 is feeding into the fake news problem); media outlets have left their coronavirus coverage outside of the paywall, and events have been canceled worldwide. But the entertainment market has shown a positive and interesting development.
Media and entertainment platforms compete for the audience’s time and money, with the user having to pick a few services from an enormous pie. However, that pie has decreased in the last couple of weeks. With quarantines in place, a portion of the population is not spending on trips, fancy meals, concerts, or plays, nor is investing time in those leisure activities. In contrast, they read more, watch more movies and shows, play video games, talk with friends, and spend a significant amount of time on social media. For some families, the purchasing power remains the same but they have less options to spend it on. In contrast, another significant portion of the population has directly suffered the economic downturn Covid-19 has brought—layoffs have increased, gig job employees have lost their source of revenue, and thousands in the US do not have access to healthcare.
Still, our mandatory stay-home situation is the perfect landscape for entertainment companies with online services trying to adapt their platforms to ‘social distancing.’ Netflix, for example, has launched a free Chrome extension called Netflix Party. Through it, you can connect with friends and family and watch a show/movie together. The extension creates a sidebar chat to discuss the show with whoever is connected. This way, Netflix does two things. One, it encourages the friends of those who are already subscribers to get a Netflix subscription and connect with others. Two, it retains them for a longer time on the platform, while the company gathers data on their consumption habits.
Streaming companies are not the only ones adapting their content. There’s a whole realm of leisure-based firms trying to provide entertainment to quarantined users. For example, museums are offering virtual tours to their galleries, while the Metropolitan Opera in New York provides a free opera every weeknight and subscriptions for users interested in watching online their complete catalog of operas. Interestingly, video gaming companies are also upping their game. The famous game launched in July 2016, “Pokémon Go,” has changed some of its structure to encourage users to stay home. One example is that players will be able to buy incense items, which summon Pokémon to gather around the user, as reported by Business Insider. This way, the game’s developer, Niantic, ensures users are still playing while quarantined.
Still, the big winners of the entertainment change are grassroots initiatives and individual artists who do not charge for their content and thus appeal to a larger sector of the population. In Spain, singers and music bands have put together an online music festival called #YoMeQuedoEnCasaFestival, with dozens of concerts of well-known music artists on Instagram. On social media, American cellist and conductor Yo-Yo Ma shared a video of him playing the cello with the hashtag #songsofcomfort. Soon, other artists responded with videos of their own and the same hashtag. Comedians are also on the rise, with sarcastic Instagram accounts increasing their following dramatically in the past few weeks. And comic book authors are sharing their work online for free as well.
From our houses, we are all following these individual artists, we are all engaging with them on social media platforms, and we are all going through the same crisis. That is to say: we are bonding with them; we are not indifferent. We invest our time on their content, which is what media and entertainment fights for. Once the pandemic subsides, and we get back to our ‘normal lives,’ we will not cease to follow them on Instagram. But we will probably cancel many of our subscriptions as we won’t spend as much time at home.
While grassroots entertainment initiatives make us feel part of the same community, the company-led efforts just fulfill their role—to entertain. Still, this is their golden age for online entertainment services and, for now, they are not falling short. However, individuals on social media platforms have competed with entertainment and media companies for the users’ attention for a long time. Individual artists are currently appealing to a larger portion of the population—they are accessible, they are human, they engage, they offer their content for free. Entertainment companies, in general, are not there. In a couple of months, we believe that competition will be even more evident, with individuals having the upper hand and companies looking for their support.