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How Media Consumption Has Changed During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Lilia Glazova, CEO of analysis and communications research company PR News, on what is happening with media consumption during the coronavirus pandemic and what the future looks like.

They say that a lot changes during a crisis, including, obviously, people’s behavior and how they react to the change, but also the type of content they consume and where they look for information. PR News decided to find out if this is true and what the corona crisis could lead to in terms of online content consumption.

To see how it has changed during the lockdown, we did a pre-study to feel out the audience and test our hypotheses. As part of this survey, it was conducted ten in-depth interviews with people across all ages to study media consumption through the lens of the theory of generations. We use the word “media” to cover all types from classic to social media. First, we discuss here what we learned about media consumption and the theory of generations and then how it has been influenced by the pandemic.

Media Consumption Across Age Groups

Children, under 10 years

Media consumption traits:

  • source of information doesn’t matter
  • media is the source of new knowledge (for studies)
  • parents act as filters of information
  • no boundary between the outer world and the internet
  • browser is rudimentary, leading to popularity of YouTube
  • ready to generate content, no fears

This audience obviously doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of the phrase “media consumption” yet because to them, the world is one big medium and “one big piece of information”. They pay no attention to the source of information, don’t know what the browser is, and YouTube is the easiest way for them to search for information because it is a separate icon/app on mobile and other electronic devices. Parents still hold authority over them and serve as a filter of information. And children often copy their parents’ behavior.


Adolescents, 10-20 years

Media consumption traits:

  • say they can filter content but in reality don’t know how to do it yet
  • use external filters (consumption shaped by aggregators)
  • media consumption is a way of socialization (keeping up with the agenda to fit in)
  • group communications as a source of knowledge about the world

The format of media consumption changes as social roles expand which is why adolescents, unlike children, seek to use media consumption as a way of socialization. Keeping up and fitting in is important to them and to achieve that, they need information. Adolescents already try to use filters but so far they are only external filters which are already available such as those offered by news aggregators as opposed to personalized ones.


Adults, 20-30 years

Media consumption traits:

  • personalized social media feeds as primary source of information
  • self-fulfillment through content
  • need for exclusive content (I’m special)

Personalized social media feeds serve as the primary source of information for this audience. They rarely fact-check this content or do it in their own special way. To them, content is self-fulfillment and exclusive knowledge. It becomes a way to attract attention: “I’m special, look at me!”


Adults, 30-50 years

Media consumption traits:

  • make effort to filter content
  • goal is to keep up with the social context, stay alert
  • biological need to minimize uncertainty is at the core

This group is the most established one of all. At this age, people need content to keep up with the social context and stay prepared for any developments, mostly adverse ones. They make a conscious effort to filter content and follow specific sources they trust. Their media consumption is largely guided by the biological need to minimize uncertainty.


Seniors, 50 years and older

Media consumption traits:

  • source of news are either people they know or media outlets of record
  • media consumption rituals
  • use of enhanced, elaborate filters as media consumption strategy

This group has an established worldview and opinions on most issues and they need content to maintain them. With age more filters come up as people seek to confirm the opinions they already hold instead of changing them, and they select their sources of information accordingly. This audience gets their news from either other people (work colleagues, family members, friends) or outlets of record, and they practice certain news consumption rituals (e.g. reading the newspaper with a cup of tea).


How Has The Coronavirus Changed Media Consumption?

The recent developments obviously brought about a spike in media consumption but it is not going to last forever and a slump will follow eventually. Will it be a big one or the media will be able to turn it to their benefit? It will depend on how they handle the readers. They are now getting a new audience which hasn’t formed a loyal bond to them yet and the question is whether they succeed in making these people loyal consumers.

All news in weeks 2 and 3 of March 2020 was about the coronavirus but audiences grew tired of the one topic in weeks 4 and 5. People don’t want to keep following it in every little detail as life, despite self-isolation, goes on and they need other information. In other words, while they were eager to get all the information there was in the beginning and in large quantities (and from all sources), now they are actively putting up filters, including for coronavirus content.

Additionally, many didn’t pay much attention to sources before when searching the internet for news on the coronavirus. Only one respondent said he remembered the logo of a particular outlet that he thought trustworthy looked like and he went on to single it out, which is already good, although he couldn’t recall the name of the outlet.


Coronavirus Effects:

  • media consumption up
  • all-consuming topic
  • people get tired of the same news
  • try new channels


Media Consumption Within Familiar Channels

There is a phenomenon known as filter bubble which means that we tend to stick with a certain selection of sources of information we have gotten used to, thereby putting ourselves in a bubble. These may be traditional media, social media subscriptions and Telegram channels we trust. Media consumption growth in this case is manifested in that people turn to tried-and-true sources with increased frequency instead of going to new ones. The media in this particular pattern serve as an indicator of a person’s position in society. To alter a popular saying: “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are.”


Is The Need For Information Satisfied?

When we constantly look for content and consume it do we ever stop doing it? Sadly, we found in our research that most people can interrupt this constant media consumption only when it is absolutely necessary, for example, when they must go to bed, take some fresh air or walk the dog. In other words, the need for information is never completely satisfied as we stay hungry for more and there seem never enough content there.