Unsurprisingly, consumers are increasingly turning toward streaming services, prioritizing entertainment and watching new content amid the pandemic, according to research conducted by Canvas8 and commissioned by Facebook and a Vivendi Brand Marketing survey.
The recent iteration of the Variety Streaming Room, “Staying Ahead of Modern Audiences,” moderated by Variety’s senior TV writer Elaine Low and presented by Facebook, explores how trends are influencing the way entertainment platforms are evolving to engage their audiences. Panelists included Seth Goren, senior vice president of media strategy and analytics at Discovery; Shannon Snow, director of entertainment at Facebook; Tulani Elisa, vice president of social media at Fox Entertainment; Radha Subramanyam, chief research and analytics officer at CBS Corp. and president of CBS Vision; and Romina Rosado, senior vice president of entertainment and content at NBCUniversal, Telemundo Enterprises.
The speakers discussed the increasing occurrence of multigenerational viewing — where families co-view content — which amplifies togetherness when it’s difficult to come by and offers producers a chance to broaden their audience bases. Furthermore, people want to access supplemental content, such as behind-the-scenes exclusives or interviews with talent, and spend more time reflecting on social media to culturally connect with others.
“Change, tumult to the extent we’ve never experienced — think about getting through that without great storytelling, without TV, without video, right? It’s almost unimaginable,” Subramanyam said. “At this time of great duress in the country as well as globally, TV has become this lifeline in many different ways, right? There’s the escapism, the storytelling, the comedy, the familiar, the comfort. But also, that’s how you stay up to date with the news, whether it’s news around the pandemic itself or an election year in America, right? These are things we all care about, are vested in and need to know about.”
Snow discussed the evolving relationship between viewers and companies and the need to continue innovating to keep audiences interested. Rosado added that future programming must consider consumers’ myriad interests and the current cultural backdrop.
“What we’re seeing post COVID is that we really need to make quasi-real time decisions when it comes to content,” Rosado said. “And given how long the development cycle is and some of the challenges that we’ve seen with being in production during a pandemic, it means that you almost have to become as a programmer, a futurist, right? And predict ‘What is the mood of the country going to be like in 12, 18 months’ time? What are some of the trends that we’re seeing now that we will keep on seeing? And how has COVID really fundamentally changed our viewer behavior?’”
Emerging trends include the consumption of more daytime television, such as game shows and home or food-centered reality TV. Additionally, consumers have pivoted toward consuming nostalgic content that bring forth feelings of comfort and familiarity, often re-watching shows.
“What we see in terms of the brands and shows that really resonate, it’s the ones that are able to create that community and give their viewers a sense that they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” Snow said. “I think being able to immerse themselves in the community, talk to people with shared interests and really feel that they are part of the show really fills a need that people need now more than ever.”
The executives also stressed the importance of responding to conversations surrounding civil unrest and the global reckoning with racism through their programming.
“Looking at right now, ‘What can you do in the digital and social space that shows your commitment to diversity, to what’s happening in the world, to responding to the brutality and the protests and everything that’s happening?’” Elisa said. “How do you get your message out there that really takes a stand and says, ‘This is what our company or organization stands for’? Whether it’s highlighting more of your diverse talent, whether it’s creating videos that stay in the realm of entertainment but still respond to the issues going on — you really don’t have the option to be tone-deaf or to ignore what’s happening at this point.”
Moving forward, the panelists spoke on what they foresee trending, such as the increasing popularity of premium video, streaming and large life events, such as the Olympics, that may return.
“I think we’re in the new normal. There’s no going back to the way we used to be,” Elisa said. “It’s really up to us to create diverse content, to create content that speaks to the time, to create things that are really showing that we hear people, we see them and then we’re responding in a way that it’s really what they want to see.”