The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to all areas. Its sudden appearance and the measures that had to be taken turned millions of people’s lives upside down all over the world. The lockdowns that had to be decreed in several countries involved a sudden change in habits. The state of emergency generated an unprecedented need for news, which also forced millions of people to look for information using all the media they had access to. A UOC study now reveals how this exceptional situation affected media consumption in Spain.
The report concluded that television is the most commonly used medium for finding information on the pandemic, despite the fact that that increases have also been recorded in other areas. According to Mireia Montaña, professor at the Faculty of Communication and Information Sciences at the UOC, “the greatest change was that the generalist television channels recovered a large part of the audience share that they had been gradually losing in previous years to digital media, especially among young people.”
According to the study, digital newspapers received 45% more page visits, and their web traffic increased by 100%, the online digital radio audience rose by 112% (and it is one of the media that audiences trust most), and live internet television channels saw a 93% increase in unique users.
The greatest increases were recorded in young people aged 13-24, and by time slots. The morning, the early afternoon and the evening were the slots that showed the highest increases, representing around 25% of the entire population. Moreover, there was a great increase in news programs, with a 65% rise in their daily consumption.
In terms of gender, the study revealed that men aged 18-70 had been getting their information from the television (82.6%), the online press (55.7%) and official statements (47.4%). Women aged 18 -70 had above all been using the television (83.8%), official sources (53.3%) and the online press (44%). By age, the youngest audiences had been getting their information from the television (78%), the online press (50%) and official sources (46.9%). Older audiences, on the other hand, had been opting for the television (87.5%), official sources (53.5%) and the online press (49.6%).
Young people turned to the TV
With regard to television consumption, the study focused on the increase in all the target audiences, but highlighted the 147% increase in 18- to 39-year-olds, and the 82% rise in the case of men aged 18-70.
“These young people,” explained Montaña, “stopped watching television a long time ago in favor of consuming digital media.” According to the professor, “they preferred to consume what they wanted when and where they wanted” and “that’s why their consumption was generally carried out using portable devices.”
However, the professor highlighted the fact that the pandemic “had led to a significant increase in fake news, above all through social media and messages shared by friends and family members”.
As a result, “at a time of such uncertainty, the media consumption of these young people, who have displayed more critical thinking, turned towards the television, which offered information from official sources,” added Montaña, also member of the Learning, Media and Entertainment (GAME) research group.
The study also underlined the fact that television magazine shows reached a wider audience than traditional news programmes; behaviour linked to the need for “escapism”.
Finally, the consumption of over-the-top (OTT) platforms, such as Netflix or HBO, grew considerably during the period studied. The data showed a significant increase in all groups, especially in individuals aged 18-39 (53%). Montaña associated the growth in this area with the March lockdown and warned that, “Now we need to see if this trend will continue or if people will start cancelling their subscriptions.”
The study concluded that the least frequently used media for getting information on COVID-19 were the Internet, social media, the radio, information provided by family members or acquaintances and the printed press. Although radio consumption did not stand out as a way of keeping informed, this medium was considered to be the most credible, along with television.
According to the study figures, the pandemic allowed the traditional media to restore a certain degree of confidence. According to Montaña, the audience’s renewed confidence in the traditional media must be linked to this “time of great uncertainty and fake news in social media” we are experiencing.
“As UNESCO itself admitted, fake news spread more quickly and in a more dangerous way than the virus itself during that period,” underlined the professor. The need for quick scoops caused several digital newspapers to fall into the trap of fake news. “Some of these media outlets also ended up publishing news that turned out to be false, due to insufficient cross-checking of sources,” Montaña pointed out.
Moreover, the professor recalled that “the official statements were broadcast directly by television channels, giving the medium credibility,” and television channels also broadcast press conferences, allowing viewers to obtain information with virtually no intermediaries. “Nevertheless, the most popular television programs during lockdown were not the news reports, but instead magazine shows,” stressed the professor, insisting that, despite the serious nature of the information, the population “wanted to keep informed, but from a more entertaining and less dramatic perspective.”