A Pandemic Playbook

Here’s What Streaming Looks Like in the Wake of COVID-19

Streaming-deep-dive-2020-april-billboard-1548-1585768364
Designed by Zach Gilyard

As U.S. coronavirus cases multiplied in mid-March, music streaming declined overall as people turned to TV news and altered their listening habits, but two genres saw real growth

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought the U.S. economy — including the live-music industry — to a halt, music streams were only slightly affected and were showing signs of growing again at the end of a Nielsen Music/MRC Data analysis conducted by Billboard. Industry sources say the declines may have to do with changes in usage as schools closed and much of the nation began working from home. Those lifestyle changes, as well as a gravitation toward sources of calm in a fraught time, also proved beneficial for certain music genres.

Daily Streams A look at daily streaming levels for the two-week period beginning March 13, when President Trump declared a national emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, through March 26, when the total number of confirmed U.S. cases became the highest in the world, shows that total on-demand daily streams were down as much as 5.3% compared with an eight-week average of previous streaming totals for that day. Although on-demand video streams showed only growth and reached their highest levels at the end of the measurement period — possibly due to the fact that people are now consuming music on home devices that are more conducive to playing video — daily on-demand audio streams took a hit, as much as 14.4%. Those declines took place in the March 18-20 range, by which time most states had declared emergencies and a week in which TV news viewing was surging. According to the Los Angeles Times, Fox News had its most-watched week of 2020 from March 16 to March 22. Viewership was up 73% over a comparable week in 2019. CNN’s viewership was up 151%; MSNBC’s 45%. The Times also reported that increases in TV viewership have been higher among younger viewers than adults.

Data from labels and digital service providers also indicates that the pandemic is affecting when and how people are streaming music. Deezer reports that peak morning streaming volume is shifting from about 7 a.m. — when many people began their daily commute — to 10 a.m. now that they are working from home. A major-label analyst provided similar data. Industry sources also say that a large portion of streaming has moved from mobile phones to gaming systems, tablets, smart speakers and other home devices, but people may not be listening to as much music because of more time than usual spent viewing cable news.

Music Genres Two typically smaller genres, children’s and classical music, were the main beneficiaries of the shelter-in-place mandates that were enacted by states from the week ending March 12 through the week ending March 26. The former showed growth of more than 19% over that time period and the latter, almost 9% over a period when overall U.S. streams were down 4%. Of the larger genres, only pop saw consistent growth, albeit under 2%. Latin experienced the largest downturn, almost 16% over the period, while country logged the largest resurgence, 5.5%, but overall was down slightly under 1% for the two week period.

Markets Most Affected By COVID-19 A look at the 10 major cities most affected by the coronavirus, according to the March 31 update of Johns Hopkins University’s global COVID-19 map, shows continued streaming declines as cases and deaths mount. Not surprisingly, New York, which had almost 48,000 confirmed cases as of April 1 — the most of any city in the nation — has seen the most precipitous drop. Streams fell 19% over the three-week period as residents watched the news channels and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily news conferences. (Editor’s note: A market’s total digital streams may not be reported here because not all digital services break out streaming on a market-by-market basis.)

Additional reporting by Frank DiGiacomo.

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