By Arnie Leshin
The coronavirus pandemic outbreak has forced billions of people around the world to answer a question they’d never contemplated.
What do we do without live sports?
For the past decade, televised sporting events have been one of the last reliable remnants of a shared popular culture. In 2019, live sports accounted for 88 percent of the most-watched programs on TV in the United States. The National Football League, game 7 of the baseball World Series, and the national college football championship outdrew any drama or sitcom.
Now, with every major sporting events postponed, people are stuck at home with plenty of free time and far less to watch. Analyst reports, research papers and outside data providers to synthesize a comprehensive look at how media habits have shifted during the early weeks of the ongoing global heath crisis.
Easily, the hardest hit has been good old America, for the red, white and blue has more sports than any other country. It’s not even close. Start with the professional leagues, the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, add men’s and women’s college basketball, men’s and women’s college soccer, men’s and women’s college lacrosse, men’s and women’s college ice hockey, men’s and women’s college tennis and golf, men’s and women’s college track and field, men’s college baseball, and women’s college softball.
There are also the highlight sporting events like the annual Penn Relays Carnival run in Philadelphia, the Drake Relays, the International Little League World Series played in South Williamsport, Pa., the International Little League Softball World Series played in Portland, Ore., the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the NBA All-Star Game, the NHL All-Star Game, the NFL Pro Bowl game, and can’t forget the college football bowl games that numbered 40 last year.
Too bad about the other lands shutting down all sports, but that’s a small amount compared to the U.S. You want to know about frustration? Well, there you are and God Bless America’s monopoly of sports played from east to west, north to south, and wherever else there are fields for baseball, football, soccer and lacrosse, arenas to shoot hoops, stadiums for football,as well as tennis courts and golf courses. We’ve got them all.
And If our media habits are any indication, the coronavirus has turned us all into three types of people: tweens, grandparents and cat lovers. Here’s what the entertainment world looks like during a pandemic.
(1) Noon is the new prime time for TV: People are watching more video of all kinds — Netflix, TikTok, cable TV and YouTube. But while total consumption is up, most people aren’t actually watching more during the hours we associate with prime-time TV. Streaming video use between 7 and 10 p.m. is down around the world according to Conviva. Instead, people are watching more in the middle of the day. The amount of time people spend streaming video between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.is up more than 40 percent. /What is everyone watching? Well,Tiger King is the first breakout hit of quarantine.
(2) We’re listening to less music — but watching more: Audio streaming fell around the world during the first couple of weeks of quarantine. People aren’t commuting or spending as much time in their cars. To wit: Music video streaming (aka You Tube) has jumped in the last month, so that’s a good sign.
(3) People spent 1.3 billion: Twitch, the video streaming site owned by Amazon.com, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the shelter-in-place orders. Time spent on Twitch jumped 23 percent from the previous month. It’s also best known for gamers, and has proven popular for live concerts and a featured called #Just Chatting.
(4) Board games are cool again: People eager to entertain their kids without a screen are turning back the clock. Toy sales in the United States spiked 20 percent in the week ending March 21. The fastest-growing categories were games and puzzles, including board games and card games, and building sets (think: Logo).
(5) News trumps live sports: Prime-time ratings for ESPN were down more than 50 percent in the final week of March, while TBS, which would ordinarily be showing March Madness (the NCAA basketball tournament) saw its viewership plunge by more than 2.4 million viewers from a year ago. The lack of new live events has also shrunk the audience for highlight shows (Sports Center) and podcasts (Bill Simmons).The biggest beneficiary on TV? Cable news. The Fox News channel was the most-watched cable network in the USA, drawing 4.2 million in the week, nearly double the runner-up, MSNBC, and all three cable news networks topped 2 million that week, while no other cable network even exceeded 1.3 million.
(6) We’re all influencers now: But users aren’t just watching other people. They are posting more too. Users unloaded 13 percent more stories before quarantines set in across most of the Western world, and the number of new stories to Wattpad, an online online publishing portal, has climbed by 15 percent.
And until sporting events return, it’s a search to find whatever suits you best.