Internet usage across the world and networks has risen up to 80%. Will the internet be able to handle the growing pressures, growing traffic and expected increase of latency?
This lockdown has brought an abrupt halt to our personal lives. Being coerced to remain indoors, for our collective well-being and individual health, has impacted regular routines, invaded private spaces, surged domestic abuse and posed mental health challenges. Hence, during a pandemic like COVID-19, which has isolated us collectively, indulgence in engagement through entertainment on televisions and smartphones has witnessed an escalation.
Previously, during crises like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and a snowstorm in 2016, overall TV usage increased by 56% and 40% respectively in Houston, Texas. Similarly, during a severe snowstorm on the weekend of Jan 2016 in New York, average usage was higher than 45%. Apart from television viewing, this period also witnessed an increase of more than 50% in the streaming of content via television. Hence, forming a corollary of an increase in television and screen usage during lockdowns.
The availability of Video-on-Demand (VoD) has been a blessing in disguise in ensuring entertainment and engagement during this pandemic as well. In the US, in spite of online streaming being customary and well-established, it is witnessing an increase in consumption of television by 18%, with live-television viewership rising up to 14%. With extensions of lockdown, a recent Nielsen report predicts the upsurge of streaming to more than 50%, globally. This lockdown has presented a perfect opportunity for at-home entertainment services like Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar, Disney+, Apple TV, etc. With the entertainment industry grappling with halted film distribution, the only refuge and harbour presented to collectives of isolated individuals are through a variety of content presented through various VoD platforms. In these deplorable and isolating situations, content provided through these platforms is keeping people engrossed and engaged, and conveniently distracting the masses from the tally counters. The re-watching or binge-watching old favourite shows and newly released films on these platforms is manoeuvring coping with building anxiety.
Understanding the power of comfort watching, the government of India has demanded re-telecasting of mythological epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata along with popular dailies like Shaktimaan on Doordarshan. This has resulted in a record-high viewing of 51 million viewers, highest in the entertainment category since 2015 and Doordarshan becoming the most watched channel. Simultaneously, after the Ramayan rerun ended (on 18 April), the overall viewership has halved. The stagnation in production witnessed in Direct to Home (DTH) television services, is assisting in viewers migrating to Over-The-Top Media Services (OTT) and VoD platforms. Such a trend is evident through the steep gains in premium subscription of over 100% recorded by Zee5 India, 90% by HBO Now and 78% by Showtime. Recently, Netflix announced an addition of 15.8 million net consumers, double of what was forecasted. Overall, the time spent on VoD platforms is at 219 minutes per week with the number of users being at 96%.READ: Mobile entertainment: Recreation in India moving to mini screens
Though, VoD and OTT holds a wider repository of content, the charm and affluence of old sitcoms like — Friends, The Office, Seinfeld, will reopen the auction of streaming rights. These are few of the most watched, famed and prized shows of this industry waging continuous bidding. To prevent losing of content during paucity in production, bigger platforms will be tempted to negotiate harder and might escalate price wars, especially when studios are launching their own platforms.
The corona outbreak, presenting an alternate lifestyle, has re-instigated the debate on cinema vs. VoD. The timeless, traditional and cultural value associated with theatres has been overturned with current arrangements of global restriction on public gatherings. The lockdowns are ensuring the promotion and prospering of VoD platforms for providing content (domestic and international) and enhancing the shelf life of previously released movies. In a peculiar and unique situation, content is providing an escapade from real pandemics to promises in reel life. Periods of theatrical release have been shortened resulting in movies directly releasing on digital platforms. For instance, Frozen 2, Onward and Angrezi Medium were released on the Disney+ platform. The five-month-old, Disney+, a product of Walt Disney Co. franchise has managed to manoeuvre 50-million paid subscriptions internationally and an escalation of 8 million accounts in association with Hotstar is noted in India. According to the streaming analytics firm Antenna via Forbes, Disney+ subscriptions has more than tripled, witnessing the highest jump.
With building viewership and establishment of digital platforms particularly in niche markets, should allow for a smooth transition from theatrical releases to VoD openings. Global lockdowns and physical distancing are here to exist, resulting in big banner and starrer films like James Bond and Marvel Cinematic Universe movies conceding this change. For instance, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Adam Sandler starrer Murder Mystery and Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box attained massive opening weekends, despite releasing on Netflix.
By providing affordable content, attractive offers, free trials and accommodating theatrical releases, OTT and VoD are heading towards becoming the main sources of entertainment. The situation of physical distancing and lockdowns created by the pandemic has presented streaming services an opportunity to engage with users and allow exploration of content. The non-availability of any other platform is resulting in a steep escalation in subscription, wider viewership and establishing a practice of absorbing online content.
Along with VoD, activities like news consumption across languages have seen an escalation of 298% since the lockdown and TV viewing has increased by 8% every week, roughly contributing to a 70 billion minutes jump. Smartphone usage has seen an escalation of 1.4 hours a day for 35-44 years old, the highest jump ever noted in this age group. The lull of working and being housebound is impacting everyone and not just millennial. In this, television, movies, smartphones, news, etc are keeping people engaged and entertained. Along with this, industry experts are expecting a surge in user-generated content (UGC), especially in short-form video content. With TikTokers in quarantine, there has been a slight increase in UGC content and a an overall rise in app usage of Facebook by 37% and of TikTok by 20%, exceeding over 49 million new downloads in India.
However, on the downhill, with amalgamation of devices for work and leisure, people are constantly exposed to screens whether for absorbing content or during Zoom calls. The blurring of these lines of professional and personal spheres with rising stress of keeping abreast with updated information, is also impacting mental health, productivity and increasing screen fatigue.
Meanwhile, with more than 76% of US broadband households subscribing to OTT services, according to Parks Associates OTT Video Market Tracker, there has been an unprecedented increase and building of pressure on communication infrastructure. As most people are working remotely, internet consumption along with usage of screen time has increased, causing a major disruption and intense strain on internet bandwidths. Similar to the European Union, the Cellular Operators Association of India has requested OTT platforms to reduce the bitrate of video for allowing ease of pressure on network infrastructure due to online streaming. With rising periods of lockdown during the spread of COVID-19, internet usage across the world and networks has risen up to 80%. Will the internet be able to handle the growing pressures, growing traffic and expected increase of latency?
With lockdowns and quarantining becoming the hallmark for COVID-19, the empty touristy streets of Milan, Paris and New York are presenting extended imagery. This lockdown broached upon us some key issues like reiterating the essentiality and necessity of the internet and digitised several endeavours. More so, it paved the way for establishing new technologies (like Microsoft Teams and Zoom) and modalities for living. For instance, cinema and theatres still have a vintage value attached to them but the coming together of VoD platforms and brands has kept viewers engaged during these deplorable times. Online entertainment purveyed content for children, allowed for wholesome quality family time and kept isolated individuals occupied by offering a plethora of content. It will be safe to deduce that entertainment in this time kept viewers active, distracted and attempted to keep the sanity alive.
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Priyal Pandey was a Junior Fellow at ORF's Technology and Media Programme at the time of writing this brief.Read More +