How Media Consumption Evolved Throughout COVID-19
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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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Misc

Mapped: Top Trending Searches of 2021 in Every U.S. State

From presidential elections, to cryptocurrencies and billionaires, here are the trending searches in every U.S. state in 2021.

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Map of trending searches in every U.S. state in 2021

The Trending Searches in 2021

Google’s data editor Simon Rogers once said, “You’re never as honest as you are with your search engine. You get a sense of what people genuinely care about and genuinely want to know.”

This look at trending searches for every U.S. state is a window into the topics people were truly curious about in 2021. From political tensions to meme stocks, and from Elon Musk to a devastating tornado, we saw a wide range of trending searches throughout the year.

In the above animated video, Reddit user u/V1Analytics pulls together the top trending search terms from Google’s 2021 Year in Search summary (for the period before mid-November 2021) and Google’s Daily Search Trends page (from mid-November to December 20th) to illustrate the daily trends for each state.

It’s fascinating to see what Americans were looking up this year.

Trending Searches Offer a Glimpse of American Psyche

In the year when COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, many Americans turned to the world’s most popular search engine to figure out how to come back to a life of normalcy.

In 2021, the search entries spoke to people’s interest in alternative assets like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as well as persistent economic insecurity, evidenced by questions about when they would get their stimulus checks.

Entertainers and billionaires trended throughout the year, and so did topics of significant cultural impact at those moments in time.

Here is a look at the trending searches of 2021 and when they were searched most:

TopicTrending MonthsCategory
BidenJanuaryPolitical Figure
CapitolJanuaryMonuments
Mega MillionsJanuaryCulture
GMEJanuaryGaming
DogecoinJanuary, April, MayCryptocurrency
The WeekndFebruaryEntertainment
ValheimFebruaryGaming
Power OutageJune, July, AugustSociety
Stimulus CheckMarchSociety
Lil Nas XMarchEntertainment
DMXAprilEntertainment
Prince PhilipAprilFamous Personalities
Jake PaulApril, AugustContent Creator
AMC StockMay, June, AugustEntertainment
Jeff BezosJulyBusinessman
Simone BilesJulyAthlete
AfghanistanAugust, SeptemberCountry
Hurricane IdaAugustClimate Change
Gabby PetitoSeptemberCrime
Squid GameOctoberTV Shows
Alec BaldwinOctoberActor
Travis ScottNovemberEntertainment
Kyle RittenhouseNovemberCrime
AdeleNovemberEntertainment
TornadoDecemberClimate Change
Elon MuskDecemberBusinessman

Notable Trending Searches in 2021

Here’s a look at a few of the notable searches that trended across the U.S. in 2021:

President Biden and Capitol

Unsurprisingly, the year started with news of the presidential election and the U.S. Capitol riot, as President Biden was set to take office.

In six states, however, the top trending search was still related to the Mega Millions jackpot, even as individuals stormed the Capitol Building.

Valheim

One of the most sought-after games of the year, Valheim, came on the market in February, 2021. By August, it had garnered over 8 million users. The developing company’s new Hearth and Home patch has skyrocketed the game’s appeal even more.

Stimulus Check

In March, the U.S. government unveiled their plan to distribute the third stimulus check to Americans.

People started looking for more information about when they would be getting their checks and if there had been any changes in the amount they would receive.

Dogecoin

Created in 2013 as a parody of Bitcoin, Dogecoin saw record trading levels in May 2021. This was in part due to Elon Musk supporting the cryptocurrency.

The Dogecoin market capitalization surged to a peak of $88 billion, worth more than three-quarters of the companies in the S&P 500.

AMC Stock

After suffering significant losses due to the pandemic-related shuttering of theaters across the country, AMC Entertainment became a fan favorite of Reddit-based retail traders who drove the share price up beyond what most analysts considered reasonable.

AMC’s stock price rose by 95% in a couple of days, reaching a record high of $63 per share. This was the latest phase of the meme stock frenzy.

Afghanistan

President Biden decided to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, 2021, ending the longest war the country has ever fought.

As an immediate consequence of the withdrawal, the Taliban militia took over the country and the government. The event, which was broadcast in near real-time, caused widespread panic among the citizens as some attempted to flee the country.

What’s in Store for 2022

It’s going to be everyone’s best guess as to what the trending searches for 2022 will be. Based on the events that dominated the news throughout the year, a few predictions could be made.

Experts predict that we will be moving to an endemic stage of the pandemic, which is bound to profoundly impact how we live in 2022.

New trends, movies, TV shows, and even newer gadgets will surely catch everyone’s attention next year. It will be fascinating to see what’s on the minds of people in the coming 12 months.

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China

Animated Chart: China’s Aging Population (1950-2100)

See why China is facing a demographic crisis in this animated chart.

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China’s Aging Population Problem

The one-child policy defined China’s demographic transition for over three decades.

But to combat an aging population and declining birthrates, the government scrapped the policy for a new two-child policy in 2016. Despite this massive change, China still faces a growing demographic crisis.

The above animated population pyramid from James Eagle looks at the distribution of China’s population by age group since 1950, with projections up to the year 2100.

How the One-Child Policy Created a Gender Imbalance

Until 2016, the Chinese government strictly enforced the one-child policy since 1979 with hefty fines for any breach of rules. According to the government, the policy reduced 400 million births over the years.

However, it also led to sex-selective abortions due to a deep-rooted cultural preference for boys. As a result, China’s gender balance tilted, with a sex ratio of 111 males to 100 females in the population aging from 0 to 4 years old in 2020.

Often termed “the missing women of China”, this shortage of women is expected to worsen over time. According to the U.N.’s World Population Prospects, China is projected to have around 244 million fewer women than men in 2050.

Additionally, the country faces another impending consequence of the one-child policy—a rapidly aging population.

Why China’s Population is Aging

In 2020, China’s fertility rate—the number of children a woman is expected to have over her lifetime—stood at 1.3.

Generally, fertility rates drop as economies develop. However, China’s fertility rate is now lower than that of the U.S. (1.64 in 2020) and on par with countries like Japan and Italy, both of which are facing aging populations. Consequently, fewer newborns are entering the population, while many in the workforce approach retirement.

Most Chinese workers retire by age 60. Here’s how China’s retirement-age population is expected to shape up by the year 2100:

Year60+ Population% of Total Population
198074,899,3857.5%
2000129,460,64810.0%
2021258,371,81017.9%
2050485,489,06634.6%
2070454,270,45836.1%
2100402,780,97237.8%

In 2021, people aged 60 and over made up nearly one-fifth of the Chinese population. As the country’s population begins declining around 2030, over 30% of all Chinese people are expected to be in this age group.

China’s aging population threatens long-term economic growth as its workforce shrinks and low fertility rates result in fewer newborns that would later enter the working-age population. Fewer working people means lower overall consumption, a higher burden on elderly care, and slowing economic growth.

So, how will China respond to the oncoming crisis?

The Three-child Policy

According to the 2020 national census, Chinese mothers gave birth to 12 million children in 2020—the lowest number of births since 1949.

In response to these results, the government passed a new law allowing each couple to have up to three children. Despite the change, the high cost of raising a child may deter couples from having a third child.

It remains to be seen how the three-child policy helps combat China’s demographic crisis and which other policies the government chooses to deploy.

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