Q4 Media Recap: 6 Things to Know

Cassie Smith

Here we are in the last quarter of 2020. Most of us feel pretty happy knowing the end of this bleak year is in sight. And while we’d like to put this year behind us, we think it’s important to take a little bit of a look back over our shoulder and to see what happened within the media landscape at the tail end of the year.

This year was weird, no doubt, but it may have some lasting impacts. Or, at the very least, the changes in the last year may at least teach us a few things about the importance of adaptability.

1. The Election

The election impacted the world of advertising in a big way. Projections for political spending were more than 50% higher than the 2016 presidential election, and The Center for Responsive Politics estimated political spending would hit $10.8 billion. Advertisers everywhere felt the impact of the election across multiple platforms. Inventory was low, clients budgets went under-utilized, and strategic creativity was tested.

Through the month of October, the digital space saw a huge amount of “register to vote” content. Social media platforms were much more wary of political discourse this year. Twitter announced it would not allow political ads, and Facebook didn’t allow any political ads the week before the contest. Don’t get it twisted, though: the digital space was still rife with political ads—they showed up in Instagram feeds, YouTube preroll, and Pandora radio ads. More money was spent on digital media than television.

The availability of television ad space, though, was basically nonexistent in the month of October. If buyers had not already secured TV inventory in October, they were likely completely out of luck— even daytime programming was sold out. There were many very large, last-minute political buys that also preempted inventory that was already secured. Political advertisers are often willing to pay double the rate card to secure inventory. Advertisers had to work closely with their vendors to get creative with placements and budgets.

2. Covid-19 Changes Sports

Sports “seasons” were all kinds of messed up this year. Usually, there wouldn’t even be competition for views, but COVID caused a huge amount of change. According to Sports Media Watch, the 2020 NBA Finals saw a 49% drop in viewership compared to last year and the Playoffs saw a 37% drop in viewership. Why? SB Nation thinks this is because many NBA viewers are casual watchers rather than hardcore fans. Other sports competed for their viewership. This decrease can also be explained by the simple fact that fewer people are watching television than ever. Streaming services, on the other hand, have seen a huge increase over the past year.

On the flip side, the WNBA saw an increase in viewership this season. The high competition this year coupled with the WNBA’s loyal and consistent following explains why the pro women’s basketball league had a great year in viewership.

The NFL season looks to be playing out well. Teams have had both players and coaches test positive for COVID-19, but proper protocols have kept everything going fairly well. Overall, NFL ratings are down this season in comparison to last year (they have been declining year over year for some time now).

According to The Hill, the NFL has seen a drop in Republican viewership, a small drop in Independent viewership, and steady ratings with Democratic households. They correlated the drop in Republican viewership to coincide with President Trump’s disapproval of kneeling.

At the outset of the season, only a few of the largest college football conferences were going to move forward with a 2020 season. Although some of the smaller conferences reversed their decision and played their season, many games have been cancelled. For media buyers, this meant having to pivot strategies in the middle of things and work with their partners to find availability elsewhere. Media may not always seem like a “creative” endeavor, but this year sure made it that way.

3. Black Friday In-Store Sales are Soft

COVID-19 has made the holiday season unpredictable. Last quarter, emarketer.com predicted that the 2020 holiday season would see overall growth rates soften amid signs of a weakening consumer economy. They expected total retail spending to grow 3.4% to $1.042 trillion, but ecommerce growth to accelerate slightly to 13.9%, reaching $156.69 billion.

The predictions were right. The national Retail Federation saw a 14% drop in average shopper spend from 2019. This year, shoppers spent an average of $312, down from $362 in 2019. Undoubtedly, economic uncertainties due to COVID-19, as well as higher unemployment numbers, have lessened consumer spending.

At the outset of the quarter, many stores declared that they would not be opening on Black Friday to try and reduce the risk of crowds. In trade, we believed Black Friday would further congeal with Cyber Monday and stores would run their large sales through the weekend and into the following week. We were right. In-store sales were staggered, and many stores funneled people into their online shopping experience.

Online sales fared better than in-store sales, but hit the lower end of growth predictions. Cyber Monday sales were up 15 percent from last year, but Adobe Analytics predicted online sales to grow between 15-35 percent.

4.Goodbye Cookies

The biggest news in the digital world is that IOS 14 is coming and with it brings the impending doom of the loss of cookie tracking. Apple has released a statement saying:

“In addition, on iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14, apps will be required to receive user permission to track users across apps or websites owned by other companies, or to access the device’s advertising identifier. We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year.”

In a follow up interview Wired.com stated “Another change in iOS 14 is that apps will have to specifically request permission to track you across other apps and sites. However, after complaints from advertisers—most notably Facebook, which in August said the move would “severely impact” its lucrative Audience Network—this feature won’t be fully enforced until sometime next year.”

5. Podcasts Are Big

Podcast Insights, released new data in October about the consumption of podcasts. It is clear that podcasts are continuing to gain traction and become a highly consumed media in the United States. There are more podcasts being produced than ever before and with that comes a growing audience.

In 2020, 55% of the US population has listened to a podcast (up from 51% in 2019) of those, 37% have listened to a podcast within the last month and 24% listen to podcasts weekly. Major streaming networks Pandora and Spotify have recognized this consumer interest and are acquiring podcast companies left and right. Spotify acquired Megaphone for $234 million in addition to many other acquisitions since the start of 2019, and Pandora has expanded their inventory with Sirius XM and PAX Marketplace.

What does this mean for advertisers? Currently, advertisers are able to secure sponsorships with podcasts either directly, or through a talent agency. We predict that in the future, advertisers will be able to secure sponsorships directly through streaming companies.

6. Nielsen Adds YouTube & YouTube TV

One of the big headlines in Streaming & OTT right now is Neilsen’s expansion of its connected TV measurements into YouTube and YouTube TV. The expansion means ads watched on YouTube and YouTube TV apps on connected TV devices will be added to both Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings and Nielsen’s Total Ad ratings beginning next year.

According to Nielsen’s head of audience, Scott Brown, this addition will allow marketers to better understand the performance of their YouTube and YouTube TV campaigns across platforms and across screens:

“Right now, the view for YouTube is reach and frequency across mobile and computers, and we also include that data in our cross-platform product, which helps YouTube and their advertisers understand incremental reach of YouTube against linear TV,” Brown said. “Adding in connected TV is a really important part in completing that full-spectrum view.”

Nielsen plans on rolling out the first phase of the measurement expansion in the first half of 2021. They will be moving into YouTube TV first, and then the YouTube app shortly after. The expansion isn’t a move derived from the pandemic. According to Nielsen’s Scott Brown, discussions of the expansion had begun before the pandemic. However, with the incredible surge of streaming due to the pandemic, the desire for the metrics has surely grown.

YouTube’s vice president of Global Solutions, Debbie Weinstein, released a statement saying, “Advertisers are asking for third-party measurement partners like Nielsen to provide a complete view of YouTube and YouTube TV audiences, so they can understand the scale of the audience they’re able to reach thorough CTB (click-to-buy) campaigns.”

Weinstein also stated more than 100 million people in the U.S. watch YouTube and YouTube TV on their connected TVs every month. And this March YouTube reported viewership that month was up 80% year over year.

With YouTube’s current performance, it’s safe to say the expansion couldn’t have come at a better time, and marketers will welcome the move with open arms.

We’re Ready for You, 2021

One thing we do know is that there is no longer a normal. The only constant is that media will continue to be consumed, we just need to be ahead of the game and know what media that is going to be. We must do our best to be where the consumers are. We can predict seasonality will still play a part, and keep it in mind when we’re planning, but we must also adapt to the changing landscape. New media habits, unpredictability, the pandemic aftermath, a possible vaccine and a new president will all impact the media. Our job is to be ready.