The Leaders’ Report 2021: Key Findings – Media Shifting

Audience consumption in the majority of media channels – in particular, television, radio and audio streaming, digital and social media, gaming, in app and e-commerce – increased during the pandemic. That’s not surprising: citizens stayed at home and hunted down information on and distraction from the virus.

GroupM research found that television brought the family together, providing a reliable source of information and access to a breadth of authoritative and secure voices. Communities took time to listen to stories from people they trusted, rather than listen to contrived marketing. Citizens showed a clear preference for information over spin and justification: they wanted clarity, rather than complexity.

The increased constraints of lockdown significantly altered the volume and importance of specific media channels, accelerating the long-term trend towards digital, and broadening the ways in which governments can interact with their audiences. There was a significant increase in audio streaming and in listening via smart speakers: 35% of US adults aged 18 and over, for example, said they listened to more news and information through their smart device during the crisis, with 36% using them more for music and entertainment.

New acronyms such as BVOD, CTV and OTT are now all making their way into government lexicons on better targeting of audiences.

While they offer governments opportunities for closer personalisation and better targeting of fractured audiences, there is a trade off: these channels also offer citizens the ability to skip more easily through the advertisements and official messages that governments and other communicators so carefully target at them.

Mainstream media thrived but local media collapsed

Television is the ultimate media channel for broadcasting emotive messages. During the pandemic, it helped embed the conviction that the severity of the crisis justified the individual sacrifices that governments asked for. There were significantly increased audiences for broadcast news (and, as a spill over, for mainstream television dramas), and increased readerships for the online versions of national newspapers.

The pandemic facilitated a rise in independent journalism and opinion (alongside a greater proliferation of ‘lifestyle influencers’), creating a much more complicated media landscape.

Local newspapers, however, continued to struggle because of low online revenue and falling advertising. In Australia, for example, the financial standing of local titles became so vulnerable that the Government attempted to force a levy on Google and Facebook for the distribution of content created by local providers. In the US, political actors busily bought up small town newspapers. Under the guise of legitimate local mastheads, they pushed more political – and more politically strident – views and opinion.

Despite these challenges, independent hyper- local news became an identifiable and sustainable online sector in some countries (with publishers looking increasingly for support from not-for-profits, rich benefactors or community donations in countries where it is not). It’s a sector that all governments will need to nurture.

An alphabet soup of on demand services

The pandemic’s biggest media winners were on-demand and streaming content providers, offering advertisers geo-targeted audiences within the safety of a protected family environment. As a result, they benefitted from significantly higher levels of home media consumption.

Businesses and governments started to see more clearly the benefits of:

  • Over-the-top advertising delivered directly to viewers on platforms such as Hulu and Now TV, or through smart and connected televisions (CTV)
  • Advertising-based video on demand (AVOD); broadcaster video on demand (BVOD); subscription video on demand (SVOD); and transactional video on demand (TVOD), all offering precise message targeting and strategic flexibility
  • Conversational commerce – the ability of citizens to interact with businesses and government services through messaging and chat apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat, or through voice technology products (“Hey Alexa, what’s the Covid R-number in my area today?” “Hey Siri, addhand sanitiser to my shopping list”).

Doing more on mobile

Mobile-based consumption increased across channels including VOD, radio and audio streaming, digital and social media, in app and e-commerce. The increased amount of time spent at home led to an increase in infotainment, video games, and home-based hobbies accessed via mobile platforms. The lack of live sport drove new audiences towards online gambling content.

The overall upsurge in mobile use is likely to remain as media consumption patterns nurtured during the pandemic mature and become longer-term habits.

Ultra-personalisation of ads

The growth of Connected TV offered advertisers more engagement, more control, and better measurement from advertisements placed alongside premium content (and often delivered in a safer, more family-oriented environment, than online).

The increase in use of search engines enabled advertising to be even more personalised, based on previously collected and historical data. Governments used it abundantly to determine or influence ad selection, based upon a user’s previous search queries,activity, visits to sites or apps, demographic information, and location.

The more citizens gravitated to digital media channels, the easier it became to track and target them. But mindset became as important a factor as access: the pandemic forced advertisers to question more whether the moment was right to sell to citizens, provide them with support, or to just sit out the pandemic entirely.

Audience tracking and monitoring

Data infuses everyday life now more than ever before. Everyone expects to be tracked and monitored – even if they don’t like it. More and more people expect to have an understanding of how, where and why ‘their’ data is used, so it’s important that the benefits, in terms of convenience, safety and services, are explained by governments. Citizens who are already unconvinced that the privacy trade-off with government is worth it, will need reassuring.

The digital advertising industry is quickly evolving due to legislation and regulations impacting privacy. The entire digital ecosystem – from MADtech, measurement and inventory through to strategy and creative – will be impacted. Apple, for example will require app developers and publishers to secure permission from users to access Identifiers for Advertisers (IDFA) in 2021 (IDFAs are used by advertisers to identify common consumers across different app environments). Google will end the use of third-party cookies sometime during 2022.

Implications for government communicaton

Despite the widespread dissemination and sharing of misinformation, public understanding of the pandemic was driven mostly by mainstream media and government communication. Worryingly, however, philanthropic organisation Luminate argues that with print circulations grinding to a halt and their business models all-but destroyed, the pandemic had become a “media extinction event” for newspapers. Without some form of fund to support public-interest media, those newspapers that do survive will find themselves owned by fewer, but more powerful, media conglomerates.

The speed of the Covid-19 pandemic, together with restrictions on free movement, accelerated an already breakneck shift to digital channels. This offers governments a breadth of new opportunities to target citizens by location and time – and with it the ability to talk with citizens at the precise moment they’re engaged in unhelpful behaviours. Nevertheless, to do so effectually will require better audience understanding within government and closer partnerships between government communicators and their media planning agencies.

While some media habits are still evolving, it’s clear that Connected TV will continue to take share from traditional television, and increase its appeal to advertisers. Its attractiveness for public- and private-sector advertisers alike will be partially constrained by the difficulty of measuring related advertising in a way consistent with traditional TV ratings. Assessing the reach and frequency of campaigns across multiple environments, applying frequency capping, and ensuring brand safety represent additional challenges to be managed.

Governments, like all advertisers, will find it increasingly difficult to target, retarget and port citizen data, and to measure cross-channel reach and frequency as they currently do. As changes such as a ‘cookie-less’ Google come to fruition, key capabilities to target, customise messages, and measure will be disrupted.

Niche digital channels will probably widen their audiences if changes in how audiences spend their free time causes people toexperiment.  The change in channel use to more at-home and video-based entertainment will likely mean fewer opportunities to connect with citizens out of home, at least in the medium term. That will require governments to increase direct communication and direct citizen engagement to connect with audiences – often older, from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds – that haven’t fully embraced the switch to digital.

The shift to mobile – where citizens historically have had a shorter attention span – increases the potential for disinformation and for dangerous content to go viral. Governments will need to enhance the digital skills of citizens and develop what Taiwan’s digital minister, Audrey Tang, describes as ‘nerd immunity’. The shift of audiences to more two-way digital channels poses additional challenges for government communicators: how can they effectively play in spaces that are ripe with disinformation? And to what extent should they?


Getting ahead of the misinformation onslaught, USA

The US Census Bureau established a comprehensive series of resources, approaches, and procedures to combatmisinformation about the 2020 Census. Under the direction of the Trust & Safety team, it carried out a range of actions including acquiring hundreds of domain names that could have been used to disseminate misinformation from purportedly authoritative sources; establishing an active multi-platform social media presence with experts monitoring and addressing attempts at confusing, obfuscating, and sowing distrust; and creating multilingual rumours web pages with constantly-updated content debunking identified attempts at misinformation.

Similarly, the US state of Colorado combatted false information on social media by buying Google ads against relevant search terms whenever a piece of misinformation began to gain attention. Using the tagline “Opinions are fun, facts are better”, the State kicked off a public awareness campaign that used advertising on Facebook to direct citizens to the Secretary of State’s website and to check recognised information.

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