Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

365 days in lockdown: lessons learned from the UK’s viewing habits

By James Cornish, VP International Sales, Vevo

As I write this it’s day 365 in lockdown and Brits have turned staying home to a fine art. Along with baking banana bread, sharing memes and sending step counts through the roof, the nation has been settling down in front of the TV.

 TV, films and music videos became a huge part of everyday life, particularly across on-demand streaming services and connected TVs (CTV). By April 2020, over six million new video streaming subscriptions had been purchased according to Kantar, with Smart TV purchases triggering one in five of these. The ongoing pandemic has only accelerated this growth, which presents a golden opportunity for brands and advertisers to connect with new audiences that have made the transition from traditional TV to streaming content.

 At Vevo, we looked into our own network to determine how the various stages of lockdown impacted audience behaviour and preferences, ultimately resulting in more of our viewers preferring to stream content on the living room screen. From audience demographics and CTV viewership to the content that can keep audiences engaged once lockdown ends, below are some of these findings and trends that will shift from ‘the new normal’ to our new reality. 

 Peaks in CTV adoption, against the waves

 Before the pandemic hit, CTV was already seeing a steady increase in household penetration as we entered 2020, the popularity of shows such as Love Island on ITV, The Great British Bake Off and the opportunity to binge box sets on All 4 had drawn audiences in. Looking at this adoption through the lens of our own network, 27% of the UK’s total monthly views came from CTV devices. As the lockdown restrictions were introduced and the nation was told to stay at home, CTV views took a sharp increase by 24%.

 By the end of April, as the UK was in the middle of experiencing its first wave of the pandemic, CTV had already grown to 30% of the UK’s total monthly views. The rise in viewership figures was sustained throughout May, despite the easing of some restrictions. The steady increase, however, did slow compared to the huge lifts at the start of the year, which is to be expected.

 As 2020 drew to a close, the UK experienced tighter restrictions, with the introduction of the tiering system and further lockdowns. At this point, CTV viewership reached an all-time high, with CTV making up one-third of total UK views by the end of December.

 CTV’s place in our continued reality

 It’s important to stress that the correlation between stay home guidelines and the rise of CTV does not mean that it is a passing trend, more an acceleration for an evolved way of consuming media in the home. In 2019, CTV already made up a total of 24% of our views, making the UK a mature and well-established market. eMarketer predicts that in the US, CTV households are expected to grow to 82%, showing this is very much a global trend.

 From looking at our data, lockdown only sped up the transformation of home entertainment from the living room – with viewers enjoying the choice, usability and snackability that CTV offers. For example, another recent study by Magnite found that half (51%) of UK viewers’ time spent watching TV takes place on streaming channels, and if they could only keep one, over half (55%) would choose streaming services vs more traditional broadcast linear TV (45%). While we might not continue to take a daily nature walk as we move back into normality, many of our tech habits will remain.

 Such widespread CTV adoption hasn’t gone unnoticed by advertisers who have also increased their focus on targeting audiences across CTVs in the home. With regards to ad spend, 70% of UK marketers say they expect advanced TV (OTT, VoD, CTV) ad spend to increase in the next 12 months according to research carried out by FreeWheel in November of 2020. In addition, the same study found over half of marketers recognised key opportunities to advanced TV ad spend, such as extending the reach of traditional TV, cross-screen targeting opportunities, finding hard to reach new audiences, and higher ad effectiveness.

  Co-viewing and shared experiences in the home

 The lockdown not only impacted the devices we use, but also the amount of time and who we choose to enjoy content with. Naturally, more time was spent in the home and younger demographics returned to their family homes to save on rent and gain access to more space. This, paired with our extensive range of content, meant that Vevo’s audience numbers increased to include a wider range of viewers.

 As people settled into the new way of life and enjoyed some more quality time together throughout May, 79% of Vevo viewing sessions were watched with at least one other person. Family viewing drove an audience shift and Vevo’s 35–54-year-old bracket grew 28% from the start of the year, and 55-64-year-olds increased by 33%.

 This really shows how music video is used in the home, as a lean back experience for entertainment which was well received by fans. Co-viewing and content preferences enjoyed in lockdown should continue to thrive past lockdown and beyond, with lessons that can be learned on how specific groups of consumers can now be targeted.

 How to keep a captivated audience with culturally relevant content

 Over the last year, we’ve seen weekend viewing figures peak at one billion global views, capturing viewers who would normally tune in to traditional TV networks. With the world going through huge and drastic changes, culturally relevant content is key and the UK has changed how it reacts to culture, championing individual content creators across more channels rather than traditional TV. 

 With access to consumer insights, artists and production studios, we are able to create pieces that react to the sense of the nation, tapping in to generate an emotional reaction and connection. Another lesson learnt from lockdown, is these pieces can be the result of hours rather than days in the studio, as relevance becomes the key element for content success.

 Embracing this change post-pandemic  

 Although there’s no doubt that the UK will rejoice at the chance to go back to pubs, shops and salons, viewing habits have experienced a permanent shift.  UK audiences have become accustomed to enjoying the vast array of content that’s available on-demand and tailored to their preferences, rather than being limited to a traditional broadcast schedule.

 Not only do brands and advertisers need to make the most of the opportunity of increased viewer numbers, but they also need to grasp the value of engaging on a deeper level via culturally relevant content.