Our small back garden has been my office during this lovely weather.
Shielded by walls, I can sometimes hear 2 or 3 Zoom, Skype, Teams, WhatsApp or Hangouts meetings going on at the same time.
At no time in British history have so many people been leading such similar lives so suddenly (with apologies to Winston Churchill).
The result is a surge of linked behaviour that has created big media winners from lockdown.
But before we look at those winners, a few facts from the blizzard of this week’s news that stood out for me:
- 10% or more of workers are now unemployed or furloughed across Western Europe and the US.
- 40% of UK listed companies have axed their dividends to conserve cash.
- 48% of UK tenants (commercial and private) paid their rent on time this month. Usually the figure is 80%.
- 1.5m British people say they have had to go without food for at least one day since the lockdown.
- The 7-day rolling average of UK covid-related deaths is about to overtake Italy and Spain at their peaks.
- Italy and Spain have turned a corner with new covid-19 case numbers in decline.
- The OECD’s guesstimate on the immediate reduction to GDP for the 7 leading nations under lockdown is between 20 and 30%.
The scale of economic and human impact is incomprehensibly large. Even during the 1929-1932 great depression, GDP fell by ‘only’ 15%.
Disney+ could not have chosen a better time to launch.
Star Wars, Moanna, the Lion King and every episode of the Simpsons has arrived on your TV set, laptop and phone just in time to help you and your family survive lockdown without inflicting severe bodily injuries upon one another.
Just 12 weeks after launch in the US, the streaming service had 28.6m subscribers, almost half of Netflix’s 60m, hard won over a dozen years.
After 2 weeks in the UK, I wonder how many families facing weeks of entertaining children and teenagers indoors have hit the subscribe button? I suspect that Disney+ could break 3m households in short order.
At the beginning of this year, Netflix was in 12.3m UK homes, a 19% increase on the previous year. I am sure that lockdown has grown Netflix too, despite the new competition.
National emergencies remind us why we have the BBC and why Auntie plays such an important role in our national conversation.
Suddenly government ministers are talking freely to the BBC again.
The BBC is rising to the occasion, providing strong news coverage, essential information and lots of good programming.
Just look at the top programmes watched in the latest BARB data for the week of 23rd to 29th March. Six of the top 10 programmes are BBC News and the top programme is the Prime Minister’s statement broadcast on the BBC.
In times of crisis, the country turns to its trusted public institutions like the NHS and the BBC.
A month ago, a government assault on the BBC and its funding through the licence fee was inevitable. The BBC was, apparently, no longer relevant in a globalised, streaming world and its funding mechanism outmoded. Do Boris and Cummings feel the same now?
The tech giants have had the scale and financial firepower of independent nation states for some time.
Now they are acting like nation states.
They have reacted with greater speed, efficiency and acute decision-making than many stumbling national governments.
Google and Apple partnered two weeks ago to work on an inter-operable contact tracing app that maintains individual privacy. This may be key if countries are to return to more normal functioning without a vaccine.
Amazon has become the essential source for anything that isn’t groceries in our household. Life under lockdown would be a lot harder without Bezos’ megacorp.
The Microsoft billions are being funnelled into vaccine production plants through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the man who most publicly foresaw the threat of pandemic back in 2015. Here is his remarkably prescient Ted talk if you haven’t seen it already.
The lockdown has demonstrated the power of the tech titans as a force for good and helped them take a significant step in their rehabilitation. In a world of global issues, they think and act globally. Something which national governments are unable to do.
And, of course, we are spending an even greater proportion of our time on social media and shopping on Amazon than ever before.
Facebook, Google and Amazon’s dominance of digital advertising will be ingrained deeper even if their revenues are affected in the short term by global recession.
Several factors will push advertisers towards their platforms even more powerfully during this crisis:
Their environments are fun and positive, whereas so many traditional digital news environments are awash with coronavirus horrors which mean advertisements aren’t served.
Companies need sales and almost the only sales available are online. These digital platforms are targeted, measurable and, in Amazon’s case, as close to a real sale as you can get.
Campaigns are easy to run from your own PC in your own back garden. In a locked down world, what could be easier?
Campaigns are easy to turn on or off (when the FD says stop all spending).
YouTube was already the preferred video platform for 8-15s in the UK, being the preferred platform for 49% compared to television at 15%, according to OFCOM.
It is not just YouTube’s big name vloggers like Joe Wicks who have reacted to the lockdown with alacrity.
Our house has spent more time on YouTube than ever before: Joe Wicks makes us sweat at least a couple of times each week; we watch kids theatre, National Theatre productions and Fleabag at the Soho Theatre (thank you for your cultural update email Mike Flood Page); friends make nursery rhymes videos (thank you Ann Brooks); and we all dance to music videos from Kylie to the Communards.
YouTube was always a mad, creative, sometimes worrying space. Now a huge range of new organisations and people have started using the platform in new ways and learnt a new way of connecting with audiences.
This will not stop as lockdown eases. The importance of the YouTube platform will grow significantly among those outside its 8-15 year old heartland.
The New York Times is having a good corona crisis.
Its core, east-coast, older, affluent subscriber base feared Trump. They are a lot more scared of corona virus.
The mix of superb journalism, great factual presentation through graphics, email delivering NYT’s journalism directly into 15m inboxes each week and opening up more of their journalism for free for the period of the crisis is winning over a new wave of subscribers.
The combination of great journalism and great digital marketing is paying dividends for the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Financial Times is being similarly generous with its journalism as it uses the crisis to showcase its wares to an audience with more time to read and enjoy what its missing.
Are The Times and The Telegraph winning new subscribers as effectively?
Gaming is big business. Worth around $45bn, it is bigger than movies and music combined.
Lockdown blitzed sales of the Playstation 4 for a period but now supplies are back.
The lockdown is embedding gaming into the lives of kids and young adults more deeply than ever before.
It is also bringing back many 30 somethings to gaming who had edged away. Gaming is a unifying part of many more male friendship groups than it was just a month ago.
Parents in need of quiet while on zoom conference calls turn a blind eye. Friends of all ages unable to meet up are doing so virtually over the internet to race, blast and kick each other into oblivion.
Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and the games development companies will see the benefit for many years to come.
Will Call of Duty be the next Premier League or Formula One?
90-year-old recent father Bernie Ecclestone and his family show us just how powerful and lucrative sports rights can be.
Activision (a mere $6bn of revenue) has its Overwatch Esports League building in popularity. Twitch, the game viewing and sharing platform, had around 1.5m viewers on average before the crisis and was steadily building. Lockdown has doubtless kicked that figure up significantly.
Lockdown is bringing esports centre stage, creating the opportunity for a new range of esports leagues to establish a following that stretches beyond the hard core. Watch them develop across motor racing, football Call of Duty and beyond.
Professional life revolves around web conferencing platforms. How many have you been introduced to over the last 3 weeks?
Zoom is the most high-profile winner. Users up 20x and valuation up 3x in the last year, despite widely known privacy and technology issues.
The valuation is now $38bn based on a turnover of $620m and profit before tax of $26m. For the financial analysts out there, that’s a Price / Earnings ratio of over 300x. A little toppy when there are no reasons for loyalty?
Meanwhile, Microsoft are quietly embedding Teams into so many lives and gently easing Slack to one side as the team platform for the majority, adding an even deeper reason for companies and individuals to keep paying their Microsoft licences.
Slack had 12m users at the end of 2019; Teams has now hit 44m active users, up 12m in a week as workforces and organisations across the globe have had to change their habits. Teams has, overnight, become a heavily used platform by schools, public institutions as well as businesses in my experience.
Microsoft is a very impressive company that is playing the long game very well.
I am annoyed with friends without kids.
They have the time to read books, to listen to their music and to take classes and learn. I spend this time home schooling, drawing dinosaurs, building dens and, occasionally, being a mermaid.
Friends without kids and friends who are furloughed are structuring their own self improvement through a mix of paid-for and free public resources.
Masterclass must be doing good business. One friend is mixing up big name classes (Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood, David Mamet…) with writing tasks and YouTube. Another is teaching herself to use the Adobe Creative Cloud through online tuition. Another does a daily dance class, another is learning to cook with Dominique Ansel and Gordon Ramsay.
The middle classes power on with their self-improvement.
Kids at home is taking parents like myself into a new, rich world of online resources and ideas. The Khan Academy, a free video teaching resource, is appealing for cash as its servers are near breaking point. BBC Bitesize must be doing great business. Elodie is just 4 but CBeebies online resources are being pillaged amongst many other sources.
A world of online learning is being opened up. Some of it will stick and become a habit.
Having written about the losers and, now, the winners, the themes seem clear:
We are all leading such similar lives under lockdown. This magnifies the winners and losers.
The physical world has stopped functioning, hammering the traditional media that rely on it.
But the wins for the tech giants and those who can take advantage of global platforms are enormous.
This is a global crisis. Media and tech giants and their platforms are global and they are showing how their power can be not just positive but essential.
Subscriptions revenues from consumers or businesses are solid. This is a time when their future importance is reinforced.
Public service has a renewed sense of purpose. Not just for the NHS and the BBC but also for global educators and the many public organisations and pubic minded individuals creating wonderful free content that is keeping us sane through these strange times.
Data sources: FT, Remit Consulting; OECD; European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control; YouGov for the Food Foundation; BARB