Cassandra has accumulated a myriad of marketing experience over the past (nearly) 10 years, giving her a well-rounded perspective of data analysis, client-side and agency-life. When she's not planning holistic media strategies, you'll find her at the Crossfit box, hanging out with her dog (Jasper), or spending time outside.

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The Shifting Media Landscape Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Note: Data for this post is current to April 6, 2020 and is changing frequently, if you are looking for insights around your industry, please reach out.

We are in unprecedented times, with the world seemingly flipped on its head as COVID-19 spreads across the globe. This pandemic has left people in a state of grief that is unshakeable, especially with seemingly no end in site. Yet there are glimmers of humanity, of hope, and a sense of normalcy that lies beneath the overt fear. People across the world have banded together, sheltering in place, hoping their parts do enough to save lives, to alleviate stress on our medical systems, and to give everyone a fighting chance. As people have started to stay-in-place and practicing social distancing, the need to stay informed has grown exponentially and the desire to stay connected has grown stronger. To do this, people have turned to media, both online and off, to stay connected and informed: while the world is topsy-turvy, the human nature to consume, in news and in connections, has remained.

Up close COVID-19 virus cell

We find ourselves at home a lot now (according to Google, Albertan’s residential time spent is up by 14% – compared to baseline, as of March 29, 2020), needing to entertain ourselves and our children, to work, and to maintain some semblance of structure. With that, it is natural our media consumptions have increased, stretching the infrastructure to its limits (i.e. internet traffic is up on average by 10%, 30% during peak times). As in any time of crisis, our need to stay informed remains, with 59% of adults in Canada getting their information about COVID-19 from Broadcast Media (TV & Radio), and 51% retrieving it from Canadian-based online news sources (Leger Marketing).


Broadcast TV has seen an increase in viewership across all major buying demos (AMA for A25-54 is up 15% since March 12 – Numeris):

  • Increase across all dayparts (late night has taken a bit of a hit – this could be because Late Night Hosts are now streaming online, doing shows from their home)
  • News getting the biggest boom (6p-7p news hours – 23% increase YoY AMA week of March 18, 2019 vs Week of March 16, 2020, Numeris)
  • And to balance out the news, entertainment and light-hearted content on the rise, with 23% watching more comedies than usual.

Not only are people consuming more broadcast TV, they are also watching more Connected TV and online streaming, with an increase of 36% in online streaming in the US, and a 36% increase in Canada (Rogers Media ‘The Latest, March 30, 2020). Netflix holds the lion share of viewing at 37%, however YouTube follows closely behind with an increase in 21%. For the week of March 16, 2020, all hours of the workday (6a-5p) in the US (assuming trend is similar in Canada) increased week over week, with the largest increase being 5pm, at 49%. This means that more people are consuming more and more TV, whether it be traditionally or online. This is an excellent opportunity for brands to get in front of consumers (assuming their creative messaging resonates with consumers in the current situation), especially as inventory is at an all time high (avails online have increased by 26% since March 8, 2020  – CTV), so now is the time to get your brand video messages in front of people.


When looking at the current situation, it would normally be safe to assume that traditional radio listening has decreased, however, this is not necessarily true – 42% of adults credit the radio with helping them cope during the outbreak and view it as ‘comfort food’. People are still listening to radio, with 83% of adults saying they spend the same or more time with radio, and 28% listening more than before. While all age demos have increased, the elusive adults 18-34 listening at home for radio has increased by 28% from March 9-March 29, 2020 (Numeris). We know that based on the Google Mobility data, people are spending more time at home, so tuning in cars has decreased (-32%), yet radio/audio still remains strong – it is just where the listening is happening that has changed.

There is more streaming on mobile (+19%), desktops (+12%), and via smart speakers (+10%). People are listening to more news, music, and less sports (Rogers Media), both online and offline. What this boils down to is that radio, whether in the traditional sense or in a digital format, still resonates with people. They look to radio for quick updates and to stay informed, which allows for brands to reach their consumers in the comfort of their own homes.

Out of Home

While we know that driving is down, Leger recently polled Canadians and found that 71% of Canadians have grocery shopped in the past week, with 60% intending to do so in the following weeks, so we know that people are still going out in their cars (excellent for radio), and excellent for out of home. The initial reaction with people staying home is that out of home might not be as effective as in our previous world, but out of home is still an excellent way to reach consumers with a positive brand message and will eventually rebound. This is also a great time to secure inventory for later in the year, as well as consider different out of home placements (i.e. elevator ads in residential buildings). Pattison is currently working with Pelmorex for an in-depth study on the effects of COVID-19 and should have this available in May 2020.


Even though news consumption is up across all channels, physical printed papers continue to struggle. News websites are booming: PostMedia has seen an increase of 60.5% in new users to all of their websites, with the National Post seeing a 171.5% increase in page views (month-over-month) – but take into account that the National Post took down their paywall on March 16, so the increase in page views might be slightly inflated due to that (PostMedia Internal Google Analytics). There is a fear that printed papers have the potential to transmit COVID-19, and while papers have reassured their subscribers, the fear is real with readers.


With people at home more, digital consumption has skyrocketed (we’ve touched on online TV/Connected TV/Audio streaming/Online Radio already), with 75% of Canadians between 15-49 having increased their time online since COVID-19. Certain categories have outpaced others, such as Government, News/Information, Social Media, and Entertainment sites.

  • App downloads have increased by 62%, with Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ seeing the most
  • As people are spending more time online there is more inventory across all digital channels: display +8%, video +17%, audio +2%, and TrueView +28% (MiQ)
  • While the avails have increased, brands are actually spending less online. In the US, there has been a 17.2% drop in week-over-week ad revenues (March 10-15 and March 17-22), and even Google, Facebook and Twitter are expecting a decrease in ad revenue.

It’s not all doom and gloom though: with the increase in avails and fewer advertisers online, the CPM’s, CPC’s and CPV’s have all decreased. Now is an excellent time to get in front of consumers, across multiple platforms, with appropriate creative. This is also a great time for brands to engage organically with their followers, as people are spending more time engaging with the brands they follow (this can help you grow look-alike audiences for future marketing campaigns).

Communicating With Your Customers

While it might seem like a time to pull back messaging, consumers still want to hear from brands.  According to Maru Canada, 82% of Canadians still want brands to use this opportunity to do good (imperative) and make a profit (secondary), to support businesses that are able to continue to pay their staff, to keep hearing from brands like ‘normal’ and to continue to hear about sales. Only 48% of Canadians want brands to speak directly to them about the pandemic – they want things to be as normal as possible.

Canadians are clamouring for information and a sense of normalcy in these uncertain times. If possible, continue to communicate with Canadians and your customers, even if only via organic channels (including email). While brands have made knee-jerk moves to pull their message out of market, studies have repeatedly proven that brands who remain in-market, top of mind, with sensitive and appropriate creative, do better in the long run. The available inventory has skyrocketed, giving advertisers an opportunity to start to plan and strategize on how to get into market and in front of engaged consumers.