How COVID-19 is shifting consumer behavior

Jim Johnson, Vice President, Account Planning,

If you’ve been busy trying to make sense of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, you are certainly not alone. Events of this magnitude have never been seen by modern society on such a massive scale, not to mention the breakneck speed at which events have unfolded, and the likely ramifications are many.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are already starting to see research emerge and trends within our own data that help us understand how consumer behavior is changing in response to the current climate. Below we’ll explore some of these findings.

What is’s data telling us about changes to consumer purchase behavior?

Perhaps the most dramatic disruption to the everyday lives of consumers has been the unprecedented amount of time spent at home.’s internal shopper data shows a spike in interest for consumer goods such as electronics (tablets and gaming consoles), packaged foods, and home office supplies as our new homebound lives take shape.

With this new “homebound” life, what trends are we seeing in media consumption?

Along with shopping, media consumption habits have shifted significantly in recent weeks, with comScore reporting an 18% year-over-year increase in home data usage for the first 17 days of March. Connected TV has seen the most dramatic rise in data usage, up 27% year over year during that same March timeframe, as families spend more time streaming content through CTV and OTT services. At the same time, sharp increases in data usage for mobile phones, tablets, smart speakers, gaming consoles, and streaming boxes/sticks (Apple TV, Firestick etc.) are a clear indication that increased time at home leads to increased time streaming content across every device in the household.

What more do we know about this shift towards OTT/CTV consumption?

March 14th and 15th Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) data from Inscape revealed the average watch session on OTT spanned 34 minutes, while linear viewing sessions were shorter at 19 minutes on average. Sports fans spent 47% more time streaming over the same timeframe, turning to news, travel and family content in the absence of major sports. Usage of ad-supported video-on-demand apps was up 19% in the period as well, higher than the 9% bump in users on TV apps overall.

What does an increase in OTT/CTV consumption mean for brands?

Content on OTT/CTV is being consumed at a high rate, which means brands have an opportunity to make their video advertising more impactful and meaningful, especially with the right messaging. We know that the TV set is still where most co-viewing occurs, but the availability of multiple devices in the household also allows each family member to access the unique content that’s important to them. By leveraging household targeting and an omnichannel approach to video advertising, brands can drive a powerful “halo effect”, reaching consumers with relevant messaging on the big screen, then across digital channels like desktop and mobile.

How do you expect this shift in consumer behavior to play out in the future?

MAGNA Global has been tracking the rise of connected TV activity and estimated an 8-10% increase in viewership due to the outbreak. While the trend toward CTV and OTT content streaming has been prevalent for a few years now, the fact that many people will be home bound for the next few weeks (at least) is likely to accelerate the adoption of such services even more in the coming year.

Now more than ever, consumers are looking for voices they can trust, and brands are well positioned to provide not only products and services, but the reassurance that they’ll be there when they need them most. While many of the conveniences and creature comforts afforded to consumers by modern society have been disrupted, some likely permanently, the opportunities for innovation and global cooperation have never been greater.

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