The fallout from the COVID-19 crisis is reaching every aspect of people’s lives and livelihoods. Global poverty is expected to increase for the first time since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the US jobless rate is above 10%, and many nations are facing stark economic realities in light of the pandemic.
No individual or business is immune, but small businesses and those who are part of the informal economy are disproportionately feeling the pain.
“The future of many small businesses is uncertain right now, with nearly a third in the US telling us that they’ve stopped operating completely. We have over 160 million businesses on our platforms across the globe and we are completely focused on getting those businesses the direct support they need during this crisis.”— Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, Facebook
The media industry itself – from content creators to distributors – has been severely impacted. While consumer demand for content has skyrocketed, advertising revenues have steeply declined. The crisis has accelerated the devastation of local news organisations. There has been a widespread cancellation of events, lowered consumer spending outside the home due to closures and self-isolation, and disruptions to sectors such as music, gaming, sports and others.
A new report by the World Economic Forum and Accenture explores how the media industry has adapted to a number of challenges and stepped forward to help society in this crisis. It also highlights some considerations for the future of the industry.
“Impactful communications plays a critical role in the global effort to limit the spread of coronavirus and its impact on society. Our industry has shown how creativity can help encourage people to stay at home, adopt healthy behaviours, protect lives and raise morale. I am extremely proud of the work WPP agencies are doing to assist the WHO, NGOs and governments around the world in the fight against COVID-19.”— Mark Read, chief executive officer, WPP
Stepping up and stepping in financially
Media companies have been stepping up financially:
- Charitable contributions include Google providing ad grants to WHO of $250 million and ad credits to SMBs to help with information dissemination.
- Along with $100 million in ad credits for businesses, TikTok has committed $250 million to support healthcare workers, global organisations, educators, first responders and vulnerable communities.
- While there have been mass layoffs and furloughs worldwide, the industry has stepped in to offer financial support to those impacted, including Netflix’s $100 million fund for laid-off production workers and NBCUniversal’s $150 million fund for employees and production staff.
Beyond direct financial contributions, paywalls have been removed for some COVID-19 content and many publishers are experiencing record audience levels in response. Information hubs and APIs such as Verizon Media’s Yahoo COVID-19 dataset have been built to keep the public informed and have made these tools available to the open source community.
Publishers are also stepping in to support mental health. Globally, social distancing and isolation have increased anxiety for millions of people, impacting their overall health and wellbeing. A recent report by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO), for example, finds that concerns over COVID-19 have been contributing to a “high prevalence” of mental distress worldwide, particularly among healthcare workers and children.
“Now more than ever, it is essential for us to work together and do what we can to support the world’s mental health. At Verizon Media, we have a long-standing commitment to this issue, emphasizing its importance to our users and the broader community globally. We recently donated millions of dollars in ad inventory to help top national and international mental health organizations raise awareness and mobilize resources as demand rises. We are also ensuring our 900 million users have access to trusted education, news and resources about COVID and its impact.”— Guru Gowrappan, chief executive officer, Verizon Media
Size matters and the power of tech
The utility of largescale platforms with significant reach is clear in the light of COVID-19.
“We were extremely fortunate to have platforms like TikTok that could connect with users and give them creative and fun outlets even when they were stuck at home. It was so important for us to help support frontline healthcare workers, as well as communities affected, including students, teachers, musicians and restaurant workers as we faced this unprecedented challenge together.”— Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance
Use of media technology has also had a significant impact in responding to the crisis. For example, the WHO has been working with telecommunications companies to text people directly on their mobile phones with vital health messaging to help protect them from COVID-19.
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In terms of direct response to the pandemic, technology has also played a critical role in supporting frontline workers.
“Through cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data, we’ve greatly improved the efficiency and capacity of the public healthcare services in coping with COVID-19. Taking AI medical solutions as an example, at the frontline of the pandemic, it is critical for doctors to diagnose patients in a timely manner. Tencent Miying has assisted doctors to identify COVID-19 in as fast as 2 seconds, greatly improving the efficiency of examination, reducing their workload and providing patients with timelier treatments.”— Dowson Tong, the senior executive vice-president of Tencent, president of Cloud and Smart Industries Group
The triumph of innovation
While innovation has arguably reached new heights in the media sector, the pandemic has challenged the structure of industry and society as we know it, prompting players from across the media ecosystem to act and adapt to remain relevant to their stakeholders more than ever before.
Some late night talk shows and Netflix programmes are going remote, and new shows with ensemble casts have emerged. Concerts have been replaced with “live at home” shows, or series like #HappyAtHome: LIVE! from Bytedance’s TikTok, and even made their way on to gaming platforms like Fortnite featuring Travis Scott, allowing for creators to take their work directly to millions of consumers. Facebook and Instagram have pushed into e-commerce through their partnership with Shopify. Business models continue to change rapidly.
The industry has adapted to fulfil its mission to inform. Facebook took an approach to “remove, reduce, inform”. Fact checkers flag content and users who interact with misinformation are alerted. YouTube has said it’s updating its policies to remove videos that contradict WHO guidance.
The industry has embraced a mission to educate and has facilitated a vital means for schools and teachers to enter into a widespread global online education experiment. And for society in lockdown, entertainment has been critical to keeping spirits up.
Do we now trust the media more?
Consumer trust has grown significantly across all institutions between January and May 2020 as measured by Edelman’s Trust Barometer. Society’s search for reliable information during the crisis is being fulfilled mostly by the government with trust at an all-time high.
It is evident that more can be done to build trust in media news and information. 67% of respondents agreed that “I worry that there is a lot of fake news and false information being spread about the virus”. While the media industry has taken steps to combat harmful content, there are still many falsehoods circulating online.
“The search for reliable and accurate information related to the pandemic has driven trust in news sources to an all-time high with traditional media seeing the biggest gain. Media trust overall is still damaged by low confidence in social media, with 65% of people worried about the spread of fake news. People want trustworthy information from sources with credentials, including scientists, medical doctors and healthcare professionals.”— Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman
So while the pandemic has wreaked havoc on a media industry left reeling, there is nevertheless an opportunity to build further on a rising sentiment of trust as the post-pandemic media landscape emerges.
The media’s role to inform, educate, connect and entertain society has measured up. If it is to be sustained, a financially viable and sustainable media ecosystem requires careful direction. Collaboration across the public and private sector in areas such as using data for public good, keeping the public informed with quality content, and keeping people safe online, will be key to coming out of this crisis stronger.
- Cathy Li: Head of Media, Entertainment and Information Industries, World Economic Forum
- Hesham Zafar: Community Curator, Media, Entertainment, and Information Industries, World Economic Forum
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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