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How Media Consumption Evolved Throughout COVID-19

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Knight Foundation Media Consumption

How Media Consumption Evolved Throughout COVID-19

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Media consumption spiked in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak as Americans actively sought information and entertainment while at home. Whether this changed over the course of 2020 remains unclear, however.

To dive deeper into the issue, this infographic explores each generation’s shifts in media consumption habits as the pandemic wore on.

Further below, we’ll also examine which media sources Americans deemed to be the most trustworthy, and why consumption habits may have changed for good.

Changes in American Media Consumption, by Generation

The data in this infographic comes from two surveys conducted by Global Web Index (GWI). The first was completed in April 2020 (N=2,337) and asked participants a series of questions regarding media consumption during COVID-19.

To see how consumption had changed by the end of the year, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commissioned GWI to complete a follow-up survey in December 2020 (N=2,014). The following tables provide a summary of the results.

Gen Z

Unsurprisingly, a significant percentage of Gen Z reported an increase in digital media consumption in April 2020 in comparison to pre-pandemic habits. This bump was driven by higher use of online videos, video games, and online TV/streaming films.

By December 2020, these media categories became even more popular with this cohort. Most notably, podcasts saw the highest increase, jumping almost 15% by the end of the year.

CategoryApril 2020December 2020Change (percentage points)
Podcasts10.9%25.8%+14.9%
Video Games29.9%42.1%+12.2%
Music Streaming28.0%34.6%+6.6%
Broadcast TV24.1%17.0%-7.1%
Online TV / streaming films36.8%39%+2.2%
Online Videos (Youtube/TikTok/etc.)51.4%59.1%+7.7%
Livestreams17.4%19.5%+2.1%
Books / literature17.1%20.1%+3.0%
Online Press19.9%17.0%-2.9%
Physical Press8.9%6.3%-2.6%
Radio17.8%10.7%-7.1%
None9.0%13.8%+4.8%

The popularity of traditional outlets like broadcast TV and radio declined from their April 2020 highs, though they are still up relative to pre-pandemic levels for Gen Z survey respondents.

Millennials

Results from the December 2020 survey show that Millennials trimmed their media consumption from earlier in the year. This was most apparent in news outlets (online and physical press), which saw double digit declines in popularity relative to April.

CategoryApril 2020December 2020Change (percentage points)
Podcasts20.9%26.3%+5.4%
Video Games32.1%29.6%-2.5%
Music Streaming37.4%30.2%-7.2%
Broadcast TV35.7%24.6%-11.1
Online TV / streaming films42.2%39.2%-3.0
Online Videos (Youtube/TikTok/etc.)44.9%42.5%-2.4%
Livestreams32.9%15.6%-17.3%
Books / literature20.4%24%+3.6%
Online Press37.0%16.5%-20.5%
Physical Press20.3%8.0%-12.3%
Radio27.2%17.9%-9.3%
None9.1%20.3%+11.2%

Books and podcasts were the only two categories to capture more interest from Millennials over the time period. It’s also worth noting that the percentage of respondents who said “none” for media consumption rose to 20.3%, up significantly from 9.1% in April.

Possible factors for the increase in “none” responses include easing government restrictions and a return to more normal work schedules.

Gen X

The media consumption habits of Gen X developed similarly to Millennials over the year.

CategoryApril 2020December 2020Change (percentage points)
Podcasts11.1%13.3%+2.2%
Video Games20.4%16.8%-3.6%
Music Streaming29.6%21.7%-7.9%
Broadcast TV46.4%29.8%-16.6%
Online TV / streaming films40.8%29.9%-10.9%
Online Videos (Youtube/TikTok/etc.)38.5%23.6%-14.9%
Livestreams23.4%8.4%-15.0%
Books / literature22.2%22.6%+0.4%
Online Press32.7%14.3%-18.4%
Physical Press7.6%4.6%-3.0%
Radio23.5%16.6%-6.9%
None16.0%28.9%+12.9%

Broadcast TV and online press saw the largest declines over the time period, while once again, podcasts and books were the only two categories to capture more interest relative to April. The percentage of respondents reporting “none” rose to 28.9%—a slightly higher share than that of Millennials.

Boomers

Media consumption trends among Baby Boomers were mixed, with some categories increasing and others decreasing since April. Broadcast TV saw the biggest decline in usage of all media types, but remained the most popular category for this cohort.

CategoryApril 2020December 2020Change (percentage points)
Podcasts4.4%7.9%+3.5%
Video Games10.5%9.5%-1.0%
Music Streaming13.7%14.4%+0.7%
Broadcast TV42.3%36.7%-5.6%
Online TV / streaming films22.5%22.0%-0.5%
Online videos (Youtube/TikTok/etc.)11.6%18.2%+6.6%
Livestreams8.8%6.5%-2.3%
Books / literature13.7%17.4%+3.7%
Online Press13.8%11.4%-2.4%
Physical Press7.1%4.6%-2.5%
Radio15.3%15.5%+0.2%
None23.0%31.0%+8.0%

Boomers also had the largest share of “none” respondents in both studies (23.0% in April and 31.0% in December).

Where do Americans Go For Trustworthy News?

To learn more about American media consumption—particularly when it came to staying updated on the pandemic—survey respondents were asked to confirm which of the following sources they found trustworthy.

Knight Foundation Trustworthy Sources

The deviations between each generation don’t appear to be too drastic, but there are some key takeaways from this data.

For starters, Gen Z appears to be more skeptical of mainstream news channels like CNN, with only 28.9% believing them to be trustworthy. This contrasts the most with Gen X, which saw 40.1% of its respondents give news channels the thumbs up.

This story is flipped when we turn to the World Health Organization (WHO). Gen Z demonstrated the highest levels of trust in information published by WHO, at 50.3% of respondents. Only 39.0% of Gen X could say the same.

By far the least trustworthy source was foreign governments’ websites. This category had the lowest average approval rating across the four generations, and scored especially poor with Boomers.

The Lasting Effects of the Pandemic

Habits that were picked up during 2020 are likely to linger, even as life finally returns to normal. To find out what’s changed, respondents were asked which categories of media they expected to continue consuming in elevated amounts.

The chart below shows each generation’s top three responses.

media consumption after COVID

Note that the top three for both Gen Z and Millennials are all digital and online categories (video games can be played offline, but the majority of popular titles are online). This contrasts with the preferences of Gen X and Boomers, who appear to be sticking with more traditional outlets in broadcast TV and books.

With consumption habits of younger and older Americans moving in opposite directions, advertisers and media companies will likely need a clear understanding of their target audiences in order to be successful.

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Countries

Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally

How many democracies does the world have? This visual shows the change since 1945 and the top nations becoming more (and less) democratic.

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Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally

The end of World War II in 1945 was a turning point for democracies around the world.

Before this critical turning point in geopolitics, democracies made up only a small number of the world’s countries, both legally and in practice. However, over the course of the next six decades, the number of democratic nations would more than quadruple.

Interestingly, studies have found that this trend has recently reversed as of the 2010s, with democracies and non-democracies now in a deadlock.

In this visualization, Staffan Landin uses data from V-DEM’s Electoral Democratic Index (EDI) to highlight the changing face of global politics over the past two decades and the nations that contributed the most to this change.

The Methodology

V-DEM’s EDI attempts to measure democratic development in a comprehensive way, through the contributions of 3,700 experts from countries around the world.

Instead of relying on each nation’s legally recognized system of government, the EDI analyzes the level of electoral democracy in countries on a range of indicators, including:

  • Free and fair elections
  • Rule of law
  • Alternative sources of information and association
  • Freedom of expression

Countries are assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating a higher level of democracy. Each is also categorized into four types of functional government, from liberal and electoral democracies to electoral and closed autocracies.

Which Countries Have Declined the Most?

The EDI found that numerous countries around the world saw declines in democracy over the past two decades. Here are the 10 countries that saw the steepest decline in EDI score since 2010:

CountryDemocracy Index (2010)Democracy Index (2022)Points Lost
🇭🇺 Hungary0.800.46-34
🇵🇱 Poland0.890.59-30
🇷🇸 Serbia0.610.34-27
🇹🇷 Türkiye0.550.28-27
🇮🇳 India0.710.44-27
🇲🇱 Mali0.510.25-26
🇹🇭 Thailand0.440.20-24
🇦🇫 Afghanistan0.380.16-22
🇧🇷 Brazil0.880.66-22
🇧🇯 Benin0.640.42-22

Central and Eastern Europe was home to three of the countries seeing the largest declines in democracy. Hungary, Poland, and Serbia lead the table, with Hungary and Serbia in particular dropping below scores of 0.5.

Some of the world’s largest countries by population also decreased significantly, including India and Brazil. Across most of the top 10, the “freedom of expression” indicator was hit particularly hard, with notable increases in media censorship to be found in Afghanistan and Brazil.

Countries Becoming More Democratic

Here are the 10 countries that saw the largest increase in EDI score since 2010:

CountryDemocracy Index (2010)Democracy Index (2022)Points Gained
🇦🇲 Armenia0.340.74+40
🇫🇯 Fiji0.140.40+26
🇬🇲 The Gambia0.250.50+25
🇸🇨 Seychelles0.450.67+22
🇲🇬 Madagascar0.280.48+20
🇹🇳 Tunisia0.400.56+16
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka0.420.57+15
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau0.410.56+15
🇲🇩 Moldova0.590.74+15
🇳🇵 Nepal0.460.59+13

Armenia, Fiji, and Seychelles saw significant improvement in the autonomy of their electoral management bodies in the last 10 years. Partially as a result, both Armenia and Seychelles have seen their scores rise above 0.5.

The Gambia also saw great improvement across many election indicators, including the quality of voter registries, vote buying, and election violence. It was one of five African countries to make the top 10 most improved democracies.

With the total number of democracies and non-democracies almost tied over the past four years, it is hard to predict the political atmosphere in the future.

Want to know more about democracy in today’s world? Check out our global breakdown of each country’s democratic score in Mapped: The State of Global Democracy in 2022.
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