October 25

How the Pandemic Changed Video Viewing Habits


The pandemic changed many things about our lives, including the way we consume media. With shops, cinemas, restaurants, and everything else closed for months at a time, we were forced to entertain ourselves at home. And most of us turned to our screens for that entertainment. 

Between baking loaves of bread and buying up outdoor equipment, we watched videos. A lot of videos. 

Video views on Wistia nearly doubled in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same time the previous year. 

YouTube also saw an increase in view time, with videos about sourdough soaring in views as people embraced their inner baker. Self-care videos also saw an increase, as did museum tour videos.  

At the same time, ultra-short videos rose in popularity, thanks mainly to the rise of TikTok and Instagram’s copycat version, Reels. 

While consumers were busy watching more videos than ever, businesses got to work making videos for matching that demand. It was partly out of necessity. With physical locations closed, many businesses turned to video as a way to maintain contact with customers. In fact, 86% of businesses say video is part of their marketing efforts. 

As businesses ramped up their video efforts, they were received by a captive audience who, during periods of lockdown, had very little else to do. 

But they could shop online. And boy, did people shop. In the United States, eCommerce sales were up 32% in 2020. And in the first quarter of 2021, they were up another 39%. 

Shoppable video, which is video with embedded links to buy products, rose in popularity during the pandemic.

And influencers also helped to push this surge in online shopping, mainly through social media videos (like Instagram Stories) talking about products they like. 

It wasn’t just YouTube and social media that benefited from eyes tired of looking at the same four walls. Streaming services also saw an uptick in subscribers. Nearly a quarter of Americans added a streaming service during the pandemic. And most subscribe to four different streaming services. In Canada, visits to streaming video services increased by 22% during the pandemic. 

It’s safe to say that streaming video services have firmly taken root in Canada. As you would expect, the younger generations are more accepting of this new way of watching TV. The numbers go up as the ages go down – 82% of Millenials, 70% of Gen X, and 51% of Baby Boomers subscribe to streaming services. 

YouTube is still firmly among the top destinations for video watching in Canada. We claim the title of most dedicated viewers, with Canadians watching on average 360 minutes of video each per month. During the pandemic, Canadians spent, on average, 4.5 hours a day watching videos and listening to music online. 

So what did people watch when the world went into lockdown?

Sourdough bread videos. A lot of sourdough bread videos. But then our focus turned to the rest of the kitchen, and we started watching more cooking videos in general. The graph of video views shows a sharp spike in cooking video views. But not just in Canada. This interest in cooking videos was global. YouTube calls it “highly unusual” to have similar viewing behaviour happening at the same time globally. 

Being separated from each other made us, collectively, find ways to connect virtually. And, again, people turned to video to find this connection. On YouTube, videos tagged “#withme” saw a 600% increase in views during the pandemic. These videos have the feel of just hanging out with a person, pointing to our need to feel human contact, even if it is through a screen. 

Now, as vaccination levels increase and things open up, the big question is whether or not these new video viewing habits will stick. Only time will tell. 

What are your thoughts? Do you think people will stop watching as much video now that life is slowly returning to normal? Let us know in the comments.

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