COVID-19 & its impact on the Alberta media landscape

I’ll start by stating the obvious – over the course of a few short weeks, COVID-19’s effects have been felt by all Albertans in some way, shape or form.

Many Albertan businesses have had to scale back on providing their products or services, make tough calls to adjust organizational structure, and/or make cuts to fiscal spending. All of these factors have had an impact on advertising and marketing within our province and country, and specifically, the media landscape and decisions on where, when, and to whom companies are choosing to advertise.

Going into April, we’ve analyzed the shifts that we’ve already begun to see happen in media channels and consumer behaviour, but are keeping our eyes level as we look to the months ahead to predict what is to come in the Alberta media landscape.

The following information came from a number of vendor resources. I have included citations. Feel free to read any of our resources at the bottom of the page.


Shifts in Consumer Media Interests

Intuitively, consumers are tuned into media across all mediums to stay informed on current events and changes to society, while also participating in a wider variety of in-home activities to stay entertained while isolating.

Not surprisingly, interests in the areas of news and finance have sky-rocketed during the past few weeks. Consumers are tuning into the news more frequently across all channels, and we’ve seen the typical “prime” hours shift to a more level curve throughout the day.[1]

In a recent COVID-19 market report by MiQ, spikes in search behaviour have been seen in the following categories throughout the month of March: finance, news, mortgages, insurance, interest rates, and investments.[2] Rogers has also reported considerable digital user increases of up to 50% in the categories of cooking and recipes as people find creative ways to stay entertained in the confines of their homes.[1]

It’s safe to say that media outlets providing both distractions from and full coverage of COVID-19 are trending upwards sharply, and that the most viewed topics mentioned here may make more sense for media placement during these times than others.


Shifts in Media Channels

As daily habits have changed to accommodate the current definition of normalcy, media consumption has seen large shifts in the following areas:

  • TV tuning has been sky-rocketing – both on cable and streaming services, TV tuning has seen a huge jump across all demographics as the public strives to stay connected from home.
    • Rogers stations have reported cable viewership has jumped by ~22% and streaming has jumped by ~36%[1] 
    • CBC has reported a 14% increase in Canadian reach, as well as a 29% increase in Canadian news-specific reach[3] 
    • Corus stations have reported a 13-15% increase in total viewing, as well as news seeing a 53-58% increase in viewing[4]
    • Bell Stations have reported a 12% increase in viewership, as well as a 172% increase in Canadian news viewership[5]
  • Radio in-home tuning has seen considerable increases – while commuter tuning has decreased as more individuals stay home, in-home radio listening has seen general increases of 19%, with news tuning seeing incredible increases of 92%.[1] Consumers are reporting that they still find radio to be a reliable source of information during this uncertain time, and are tuning in frequently.[3]
  • E-commerce business is booming – E-commerce business has seen a spike with week-over-week increases in the following industries: 7% in online banking, 6% in retail shopping, 6% in restaurant takeout, and 6% in online grocery shopping.[6] E-commerce business is also spiking with new demographics and audiences that previously showed infrequent online purchasing behaviour; given that it’s currently the only alternative to face-to-face transactions during social distancing, barriers to adoption have been lower than ever for new demographics.[7]
  • App downloads are on the rise – between the major three streaming apps, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime, downloads are up 62%. The marketplace is also seeing considerable growth in educational apps to aid in online classroom development, as well as growth in educational apps for children. Not surprisingly, video conferencing apps have seen the most exponential growth, with some providers reporting increases of 900%.[1]


The Prevailing Opportunity

For businesses that are aiming to stay connected with and support their consumers, the most important considerations are understanding what their consumers need and how they feel during this period of time. Businesses must remain flexible and ready to adjust creative messaging and media channels at any time to better suit the fluid situation.

As numerous brands’ first instincts during such times of crisis are to pull their advertising campaigns out of market, there are several reasons why they should reconsider any rash decisions. Firstly, 75% of Canadians surveyed in Maru Canada’s recent study agreed that they want brands to “continue communicating with them during crisis, but in more meaningful ways”.[8]Similarly, in a recent study commissioned by Rogers, 65% of Canadians want to hear how brands are supporting them during crisis and want to get behind brands that support those in need.[1]

As seen after the recession in 2008, brands that increased their marketing investments while other competitors reduced theirs, were able to have a bigger impact with “reduced noise” and gain a lasting advantage on competitors to land a more prominent market share.[9]

While this doesn’t mean continuing with a hard sell CTA, it does mean communicating soft branding messages and sharing relevant information with consumers regarding changes to normal operations, and/or how a brand has supported the country’s initiatives to reduce the pandemic’s impact.

In addition, recent media inventory levels have increased as a result of several advertisers pulling out of market; this poses an opportunity for advertisers that are in market (or considering it) to increase their share of voice at lighter cost. As competitors across multiple industries halt their advertising efforts, the market becomes fairly unsaturated and has resulted in extremely low CPAs, low CPCs, and an abundance of bonusing for advertisers who remain in market with carefully crafted, empathetic messages. Now more than ever appears to be the time to have a “digital-first” marketing strategy as display has seen an 8% increase in inventory, video 17%, audio 2%, and TrueView Video 28%, with Connected TV seeing a 42% jump in availability.[2]

Remaining present through crisis not only can help brands improve their market share, but may also better position brands for success when the “new normal” emerges at the point of market recovery.


What’s Ahead in the “New Normal”

Nobody knows for certain. However, we can look to countries that have successfully flattened the curve to observe how this “bounce-back” will look.

Based on trends observed in China, consumer demand is expected to increase sharply in the following areas: out-of-home dining & gathering (+55% of consumers expecting to spend heavily), travel (+49%), out-of-home entertainment (+48%), basic and/or advanced epidemic prevention products (36%-42%+), food and beverage (+38%), among several other industries.[10]

The most notable change we can expect in the months ahead is the broader adoption of a “digital-first” mindset.[11]This pandemic has shown society that there are different ways of doing virtually everything, and that almost any interaction can be taken to the digital environment rather than the physical. Especially with demographics who had reservations towards changing their habits, we’re expecting to see a lasting rise in digital adoption.[7] This is the time for innovations in digital advertising and it’s the time for brands to keep an open mind to new ways of reaching consumers online.


Regardless of which predictions turn out to be true, brands should actively be planning and gathering insights to be able to address the situation as it moves, and be prepared to enter the market upon recovery with a strong CTA for consumers to consider.[7] When considering market share, it’s possible that industries will see variable shifts; speed will be an asset to brands that are able to grasp share of voice first, with platform, channel and medium choices having lasting impacts on audience perception.


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[1]Rogers, The Latest, Mar 30 2020

[2]MiQ, COVID-19: Canadian Market Trends, March 2020

[3]CBC, COVID-19: TV and Digital Performance, March 31, 2020

[4]Corus TV & Radio Overview, March 2020

[5]Bell Media, The Insider Newsletter: Special Update, March 26, 2020

[6]Bell Media via Angus Reid Forum- COVID-19 Weekly Tracker of Canadian Perceptions & Behaviour

[7]DAC Group, COVID-19: Digital Communication Series, March 30, 2020

[8]Bell Media via Maru Canada- COVID-19 Feel Think Behave Tracker

[9]Millward Brown, Marketing During the Recession, April 2008

[10]Bell Media via Kantar Consulting, China, February 2020

[11]Quantcast, COVID-19 Impacts, March 2020

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