The Future Of Music Streaming: How COVID-19 Has Amplified Emerging Forms Of Music Consumption
Special thanks to co-author, Josh Viner for his contribution to this article.
The constructs of our daily reality and how we consume entertainment have undergone a significant change due to the pandemic. With more downtime and consistent access to WiFi, consumers have gravitated towards visual forms of entertainment such as video streaming, gaming, social media, and live streaming, while audio consumption has fluctuated. The pandemic has forced the music industry to get creative, making it essential for artists to integrate new forms of media into their routine as a way of keeping and growing an engaged audience. In the long run, this may just be exactly what the industry needs to keep and grow consumer attention.
This article will examine how the pandemic altered consumer consumption habits between March 2020 to May 2020. We will examine how music streaming has been impacted and how artists and their teams are utilizing collaboration, live streaming, video streaming, social media and gaming to not only support COVID-19 relief efforts but to connect with their online audience.
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In March, when the pandemic began to significantly impact the United States, streaming declined for three consecutive weeks in a row. First by 2%, then by 8.8%, followed by 3.2%. Such a decrease is rarely seen. The closest comparison is an annual dip by no more than 1%, the week following the Christmas holidays. However, the week ending April 2nd saw a 2% increase in streaming within the United States and we continued to see an incline. According to Spotify’s Q1 2020 report, overall daily active users and consumption have remained in line with their forecasts, although, Italy and Spain, markets hardest hit by the pandemic, saw notable declines. With such fluctuation in audio consumption, artists and their teams continue to leverage new forms of media as a way of reaching their audience.
It is possible for streaming platforms to support and enable this, by providing more granular, non-identifiable consumer data, in order to amplify their online efforts through targeted online marketing. As of May 15, 2020, Spotify is now offering more ways for members of an artist’s team to access an artist’s analytics through a mobile app, now available on iOS and Android, as well as a Manage Team function. As the pandemic fuels online collaboration between artists, a helpful analytical feature that would refine an artists marketing strategy would be to see similar artists by country. Currently, Spotify offers similar artist data globally. This information can only be utilized so many times as a ‘interest’ in a Facebook, Instagram or Google advertising campaign. Diving down on similar artists by country would allow better local targeting and increase return on investment in marketing for artist teams.
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Throughout the month of March, the number of users engaging in live streaming surged across platforms like Twitch, Instagram, and YouTube. Viewership on video sharing platform Twitch, specifically their Music and Performance Arts Category, rose by 524%, from an average of 92,000 viewers to 574,000 viewers. Electronic and House artist, Diplo, launched a live streaming series on Twitch called Corona World Tour. While an artist-centric platform, Bandsintown launched its own Twitch channel promoting a livestream from DJ Black Coffee, which saw 84,500 unique viewers. As of March 25th, Bandsintown launched a virtual festival called Music Marathon on their live Twitch Channel.
From recording artists like John Legend to James Bay, artists have used live streaming as a method to connect directly with fans. Tory Lanez’s infamous Instagram livestream in mid-April, called “Quarantine Radio,”saw record numbers peaking at 350K viewers. From mid-to-late March, there was a reported 70% increase in Instagram Live video streaming in the United Stated, compared to February. Alongside Instagram Live, YouTube Live is another platform that has amplified artist’s efforts to connecting instantaneously with fans. Dua Lipa complemented the release of her new album, Future Nostalgia, by playing and commenting on each song live on YouTube Live, while indie artist, Clairo, premiered new songs on a YouTube livestream.
Collaboration between artists and media organizations have exploded since the pandemic, to not only galvanize efforts to support those impacted by COVID-19, but also to connect those feeling isolated. The star-studded virtual online concert “One World: Together at Home” by Global Citizen and the World Health Organization drew nearly 21 million viewers across networks and raised $12.7 million for health care workers and COVID-19 relief efforts. Performances aired on ABC, CBS, ABC, The CW, BBC, and streamed on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu Plus, Instagram, Twitter, Yahoo, as well as major digital music platforms. Audiences also had the option to tune in and listen on iHeart radio. Other examples of individual collaborations that occurred throughout March leading up to “One World: Together At Home” included Elton John’s combined effort with iHeart Radio to host a living room concert. That concert attracted 8.7 million viewers across multiple networks and raised $10 million relief efforts. Additionally, in early March, Charli XCX partnered with the LGBTQ dating app Grindr to host a live DJ session on the app’s Instagram page.
While collaboration between the music and gaming industry is not new, the scale of and attention gained from fans through collaboration has accelerated. The internationally-recognized video game, Minecraft, which carries with it a dedicated audience, hosted a number of virtual concerts, including a DJ festival called “Second Aether” and “Nether Meant.” Popular multiplayer game, Fortnite, introduced an in-game Travis Scott concert, featuring a Travis Scott avatar soaring over players while the viewer teleported around the venue while seeing psychedelic graphics. The event saw 12.3 million players participate.
Overall, during the early weeks of the pandemic, gaming increased by 22% in the U.S. and 20% in the U.K, as reported by MIDiA Research. AT&T reported that gaming-related traffic increased by 50% in April compared to pre-lockdown levels. Viewership on live streaming platform Twitch was up 10% in the third week of March, while YouTube Gaming viewership increased 15% during the same time period. More recently, Twitch has seen its average of concurrent viewers nearly double from about 1.3 million in January to 2.5 million in April. Additionally, Facebook has recently entered the industry with Facebook Gaming, a new app designed for creating and watching live gameplay. Beyond the gaming industry, video streaming and social media have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
In the US, TV streaming increased by 85% in the first three weeks of March, while YouTube video streams rose by 1.3%. This rise in YouTube streams occured in the same week that audio streams decreased by 8.8%. Overall, video streams are up 27.1% year-over-year and have outperformed audio in percentage growth for eight of the 13 weeks this year. The trend has continued since March. Video streaming is now responsible for 58% of all internet traffic, with YouTube’s share of all traffic rising from under 9% in 2019 to 16% in 2020. A similar increase in usage has occurred with social media apps.
Between March 14th and 24th, Facebook’s apps including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, saw a 40% increase in usage from 18–34 year olds in the U.S. Facebook revealed that all three of its apps have grown by 70% in Italy since the crisis started. In comparison to local social media platforms in other countries, China’s local social media apps saw usage climb by 58%. Overall, social networking sites now account for 11% of global internet traffic, having displaced general web browsing by 8%.
Additionally, TikTok saw an astounding 18% week-over-week increase in downloads in the U.S. from March 16th to the 22nd. In fact, the short video platform saw a 5% global increase in downloads from March 1st to the 23rd, compared to February 1st to the 23rd. TikTok has continued its surge, as it was the second-most downloaded non-gaming app worldwide in April, after Zoom. TikTok has shown that a younger generation actively wants to use music to express themselves and take part in the making of hit songs and artists.
Moving forward, consumers are expected generally to have more leisure time and to have access to faster networks. How will consumers’ consumption of entertainment evolve when 5G enables seamless video streaming during commutes, while remote employment and online retail becomes the new normal? Rather than sitting on their laurels the industry has continued to demonstrate strength in its creative imagination, facilitating the ability to connect with audiences and make a positive global impact. The challenge now becomes, how can we further support and elevate creatives and their teams in doing so?