Netflix Illustrations As Streaming Service Hits Record

The Netflix Inc. original series “Cobra Kai” on a laptop computer arranged in Seattle, Washington, … [+] U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Netflix Inc. ended its biggest year in company history with a bang, powering its stock to intraday and closing highs after adding more customers than expected and saying it no longer needs to borrow money to build its entertainment empire. Photographer: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg

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Consumer spending patterns have been turned upside down by the pandemic—from the demand for jigsaw puzzles climbing 370%, to sales of yeast growing more than 400%, to Peloton sales spiking 172%. But it’s not just the dollar spending that has changed, it’s also another type of currency—our attention. In particular, the pandemic has fundamentally changed how we consume video

The rise in video consumption.  

Video popularity was on the rise before the pandemic—Cisco had already estimated that, by next year, a staggering 82% of all created content would be video. But the pandemic has accelerated an already ravenous appetite for video content. The average U.S. consumer now pays for four different streaming video subscriptions. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. consumers (23%) have added at least one new paid streaming video service since the pandemic began. 

It’s not just the well-established streaming players and social media platforms that are seeing increased traction. Relative newcomers such as TikTok and Instagram Reels are feeding consumer’s rampant desire for video. TikTok’s tidal wave growth saw it nearly triple in size since 2018, now amassing about 100 million monthly active U.S. users. 

Relatable content on the rise 

TikTok’s rise to global prominence has been driven by several trends. One potent driver has been increased demand for relatable content. As the pandemic unfolded, people felt more comfortable being their full, authentic selves on social media platforms like TikTok. According to research by Global Web Index, 42% of social media users agree there’s been less pressure to portray an unrealistic image of their life on social media. More so than before, being relatable is driving clicks and attention. After being interesting and funny, being relatable is the third most powerful driver of online video shareability right now.  

User-generated (UGC) content is some of the most relatable. A staggering 92% of consumers trust organic, UGC more than they trust traditional advertising. More people are creating and uploading videos on TikTok and other platforms than ever before. A particular kind of UGC has seen an especially strong uptick—micro-influencer activity. According to leading social media marketing platform Socialbakers, as the pandemic unfolded, top influencers “were more likely to be authentic, natural types who posted more relatable content that emphasized real-world human situations over aspirational and manicured posts.” In contrast to previous years when mega-influencers and celebrities were in the spotlight, micro-influencers have been stealing the show of late. More than three quarters (77%) of marketers say they want to work with micro-influencers—those who have 5,000 to 100,000 followers—as compared to only 30% wanting to work with mega-influencers—those who have 500,000 to 5 million followers—and 22% wanting to work with celebrities —those who have 5 million followers or more. 

Cognitive benefits of video 

Binge-watching Netflix is commonly associated with laziness and feelings of regret. But, especially during these times, video has offered several positive benefits. Research by Google has found that “In times of uncertainty, digital video can be a wellspring of positivity”. 79% of U.S. video consumers surveyed by Google found that streaming platforms make them happy, and bring them joy and relief. 

Perhaps this wellspring of positivity is driving increased engagement. According to research by Adobe, video completion rates have been increasing since April, changing course from steady declines that began in early 2019. Most (63%) consumers now say that they always or often finish a piece of video content from start to finish in a single sitting.

While video content might be king, not all types of content have gained traction throughout the pandemic. As a report by Google explains, the types of video content people are consuming during the pandemic is reflective of how people are thinking about their lives right now. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of people say they are re-evaluating their lives and their goals right now. And, as a result, they’re looking to video to learn new skills. More than half of Google’s respondents (58%) reported that they are using digital video to learn new skills. 

To be sure, not all media consumption during the pandemic has been positive—far from it. “Doomscrolling”—reading a long stream of negative and depressing headlines on social media—has become part of our vocabulary since the beginning of the pandemic. Fortunately, it appears that some video content is helping to offset some of the negative impacts of doomscrolling and other harmful social media activities by helping people find positivity or even, paradoxically, helping them “digitally detox.” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has said that YouTube views for guided meditation videos increased by 40% since the pandemic began. And research by Google has found that viewership of videos related to “nature sounds” has increased by 25% as people look for calm amid so much uncertainty and hardship around them. Remarkably, prior research has shown that being virtually exposed to nature such as a virtual forest can decrease stress and rival the benefits of being exposed to real nature settings. 

The future of video 

The pandemic has shown us that the future of video is more than about streaming wars. It’s a battle for how to create content that empowers viewers to engage with relatable content, level up their skills, find happiness, and quell stress. In all likelihood, the trends we’re seeing now will forever change the future of video.

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Roland Millaner