The COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of devastating. More than 33,000 people have died of COVID-19-related causes as of this writing, and that number is only increasing. Self-isolation, quarantines, and government-mandated shutdowns are keeping people indoors, triggering a massive wave of job losses and disastrous consequences for a wide range of businesses, including restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and brick-and-mortar retailers. The market has reacted accordingly.
In all of this, though, there might be a silver lining for streaming services such as Netflix (NFLX -0.38%) and Disney-owned (DIS) Disney+. Experts had predicted that streaming demand could rise under these stay-at-home conditions, and now, it appears the promised industry boom has arrived.
Earlier this month, consulting firm Nielsen predicted that TV consumption would increase significantly during this period of self-isolation, unemployment, and working at home (or pretending to work, anyway). The predicted increase covered both legacy pay-TV services and modern streaming services (which, in turn, include both on-demand services such as Netflix and live-TV streaming services such as Dish's Sling TV).
Streaming accounts for about a fifth of all TV viewing, so Nielsen's prediction seemed like great news for Netflix and its peers. But Nielsen did note that previous periods of isolation triggered by disaster lifted TV viewing hours in part because isolated individuals and families sought out news related to the situation. Netflix and Disney+ do not, of course, offer news -- giving us at least one reason to wonder how much of an impact increased TV viewing would have on the streaming giants.
The stay-at-home streaming boom
We need wonder no more: Netflix and its streaming tech peers seem to be logging major streaming hours in the midst of the pandemic.
A survey from Hub Entertainment appears to confirm Nielsen's prediction of more TV news and entertainment viewing. Hub asked respondents to report if they were doing more or less of certain activities during the pandemic. Predictably, "going to the movies" fared rather poorly: Only about a fifth of respondents said they were doing more of that. But huge portions of respondents self-reported increased amounts of streaming on subscription services and renting pay-per-view movies and shows. Broadcast TV, cable TV, and video gaming also enjoyed big booms.
|Activity||Respondents who say they're doing "a lot more"
or "a little more" now vs. a month ago
|Renting pay-per-view content||66%|
|Playing video games||65%|
|Watching broadcast TV||58%|
|Watching cable TV||57%|
|Watching Amazon Prime video||56%|
|Going to the movies||18%|
These survey findings are corroborated by other evidence. Netflix recently set an all-time high in data use on AT&T networks, per an AT&T announcement. In Europe, streaming services have cut streaming quality in order to better respect the limits of broadband infrastructure; with communications networks burdened by the crisis, governments had to rely on quality cuts from services such as Netflix and Alphabet's YouTube to keep streaming habits from excessively slowing vital communications.
In other words, the stay-at-home streaming boom is very, very real.
A consolation prize
A stay-at-home streaming boom doesn't mean companies such as Netflix are about to make a fortune in a flood, of course. But it's a nice consolation prize, particularly for media giants such as Disney, which have been hit hard by the pandemic's economic realities. Disney's shuttered parks and unlucky theatrical-release films helped trigger a major slide in Disney's stock price -- the stock was down 40% at its lowest COVID-era point, though it has rallied slightly as of this writing. Disney+ is a relative bright spot amid a lot of headaches for Mickey's gang.
The streaming boom may also help companies that are planning streaming debuts, such as AT&T, which will launch HBO Max (reportedly on time) in May. Unlike a grand retail opening or a big movie release, such debuts should be able to go forward relatively successfully.
An uptick in streaming by stay-at-home Americans and others around the world won't undo all of the damage COVID-19 has done, but it's a silver lining that streaming executives had to have been looking forward to in recent weeks. It's real, it's here, and it's something to hold onto in a difficult moment for all kinds of businesses.