The public and the media: a stronger link during confinement
On 17 March, the first day of lockdown in France, French people of all ages turned to the media en masse: for information above all, as well as to have fun, watch content and stay in contact with the outside world, from which they had been temporarily cut off. This period has demonstrated the strong link between the public and the media. As television and Internet audience measurements are automatic, they continued to operate during this period. Médiamétrie has analysed the impact of confinement on public attitudes to television and the Internet. Here are the main things learned.
A sharp increase in the consumption of TV and Internet
From the first days of lockdown, time spent watching television has increased dramatically, reflecting the central role of the media in supporting French people in this period of crisis. On average, the public spent about one hour twelve minutes more each day watching television than a year ago.
Thus, during the first 6 weeks of confinement (from 17 March to 26 April 2020), individual viewing times (IVT) for television amounted to a daily average of 4 hours 41 minutes, compared to 3 hours 29 minutes a year earlier, an increase of more than a third.
This increase in time spent watching television is most marked among young people: + 65% for 15-24 year olds with 1 hour 47 minutes each day. They are also more numerous: over 58% of 15-24 year-olds watched television every day during confinement. This represents an increase of 18 points in one year. The higher socio-professional categories also watched much more television: their IVT increased by 56% in one year.
Julien Rosanvallon, Executive Director of Digital and TV at Médiamétrie, says “this period has shown that the links between young people and television are extremely strong”.
The increase in audience can be seen from 8 am and is confirmed throughout the day. Audience peaks are much more marked and come at the time of the news programmes at 1 pm and 8 pm. The evening peak is thus getting earlier: on average, it came at 8.49 pm with 29.7 million viewers, compared to 9.32 pm and 24.1 million viewers a year ago. Julien Rosanvallon continues: “This is explained by the importance of the news, a time when a massive amount of French people find themselves in front of the TV for information and to be connected to a group, something which is inevitably lacking during this period of confinement.”
Special-interest channels saw their audiences increase: between 16 March and 26 April 2020, an additional 5 million viewers watched these channels every day, an increase of 35% in one year. They attracted a total of 18.8 million viewers over the course of a day.
The French public also use their TVs to enjoy video games, VOD or SVOD, watch DVDs, surf on video platforms, Smart TV applications, etc. These activities increased by half an hour per day over the period and represent 1 hour 7 minutes per day on average over the 6 weeks. In terms of absolute duration, this development is, however, much less significant than that of the time spent watching television programmes. Time spent watching TV content has a large majority: it represents 81% of the time spent in front of the television. On other uses of TV screens, Julien Rosanvallon explains that: “ the use of SVOD has progressed significantly: on average, during lockdown, 34% of Internet users aged 4 and over watched at least one piece of SVOD content each week, compared to 23% on average in previous weeks”.
The use of catch-up is also increasing, but to a lesser extent than live television. This use represents more than 8 minutes during confinement, compared to more than 6 minutes a year earlier (+ 31%).
Internet use has also increased markedly during lockdown. Time spent on the Internet experienced a strong increase of more than one third (36%) between 17 March and 31 March 2020, representing 2 hours 50 minutes per day (2 hours 5 minutes in March 2019). 15-24 year olds spent 4 hours 50 minutes a day on the Internet (+ 49% compared to March 2019), while those aged 50 years and over spent 2 hours 9 minutes a day on the Internet (+ 41%).
Between 17 March and 31 March 2020, 73.4% of French people connected to the Internet. In March 2019, they were 71.8%. Bertrand Krug, Director of Médiamétrie's Internet Department stated: “all screens made progress and mobile phones are still the leading device to connect from; however, the increase was greater for computers and tablets, which are primarily used at home”.
In March 2020, 45.8 million French people connected to the internet every day, whereas in March 2019, this figure was 45.1 million. The peak in March connections occurred on 17 March, which was the first day of lockdown: that day, 46.4 million people were online. On average, 1 million additional Internet users surfed the internet every day between 17 March and 31 March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. As Bertrand Krug pointed out: “these figures also put the digital divide into perspective: just over 9 million French people do not have Internet access”.
News programmes break records
Naturally, French people kept themselves closely informed of developments in the pandemic and government decisions. This is reflected in the exceptional performances achieved by extended news programmes and continuous news channels. News programmes accounted for 23% of total programme viewing, compared to 15% in normal times. This practice is supported by the large number of special editions.
News channels saw their audiences increase. BFM TV, CNews, LCI and FranceInfo: together achieved an average audience share of 7.6% over the 6 weeks of lockdown, an increase of nearly 3 points in one year. The interest is even greater among young people between 15 and 24 years old, whose audience share increased threefold on these news channels. The channels’ daily coverage increased by 63%; it reached nearly 21 million viewers over the day. An average of 8 million additional viewers watched them every day compared to the same period last year.
The audience of Internet news sites and applications has also increased. 5 press brands entered the top 20 sites in March 2020, and 2 French brands - Franceinfo: and Le Figaro - are in the top 10. During confinement, 22.3 million French people visited news sites and applications (+5 million compared to March 2019). Internet users searched for information about events closer to home: local or regional news - radio and press websites - doubled their digital audience during confinement in March. For Bertrand Krug, “the success of news on the Internet during this period testifies to the strong confidence in media brands and the diversity of the sources of information consulted.”
Historical audiences for the President’s speeches
The speeches by the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister were overwhelmingly followed by the French people, who were riveted to these announcements of executive decisions on epidemic prevention measures and restrictions on outings and travel. The audience levels reached are all-time records, as never seen before. Two multi-broadcast Emmanuel Macron speeches, each having gathered more than 35 million viewers on average, confirm the central role of television in these exceptional times. The Prime Minister's speeches also largely mobilised the French people.
Making way for entertainment and safe havens
The exceptional circumstances facing the world today have a strong impact on the programme scheduling of channels. First of all, due to the requirements of lockdown: suspension of filming, impossible to edit programmes, etc. TV channels reduced the frequency of certain fiction programmes to spread their broadcast over the confinement period. Live streaming shows were postponed to a later date, and, due to a lack of new content, several shows were re-broadcast. Other programmes have been cancelled to make room for more news programmes during this period. Programmes were presented without audiences, and some presenters even presented such shows from home.
TV channels have significantly changed their schedules to make more room for entertainment and more particularly for comedies. French people have been looking to entertain themselves with light programmes that are detached from reality. Such programmes are exceeding their audience records week after week.
Television channels, deprived of their production capacity, have adapted by broadcasting “cult” and probably reassuring films such as La Grande Vadrouille or Les Tontons Flingueurs. And this has been successful: 42 million people watched even part of one or more of the 19 French films among the 20 films with the best audience over the period; 8 of these films feature Louis de Funès in their credits and 14 of them are pre-1980s.
During this period, 346 programmes (excluding television news) exceeded 3 million viewers. One year ago, 305 programmes achieved this figure. And 63 programmes exceeded 5 million viewers (31 in 2019).
French people, deprived of going out to cultural places, which are closed in these times of lockdown, are also finding an alternative offer to television. Whether it be an evening dedicated to Beethoven on Arte (384,000 viewers), the Gisèle ballet on France 5 (281,000 viewers) or the Rigoletto opera on TF1 (70,000 viewers). These are very significant audience ratings compared to attendances at concert halls or opera houses Television and digital technology are keeping us connected to culture.
Entertainment also widely unites people on the Internet: Médiamétrie//NetRatings recorded 23.2 million daily unique visitors on video and cinema websites in March 2020 (+8% compared to March 2019), and 8.6 million on TV and radio websites (+24% compared to March 2019). The appetite for content has also led to an increase in piracy, which has started to rise again after a decline was observed last year: 10 million unique visitors viewed illegal streaming websites in March 2020, up 12% from February 2020.
Internet entertainment includes a wide variety of topics covered by sites that have seen their audiences jump: online games (18.4 million daily unique visitors; + 9% in one year), celebrity magazines and infotainment (+33%), comedy (+59%) and cooking (+40%). One new phenomenon is that while outdoor sports have decreased considerably, the audience for fitness applications has doubled. On a cultural level, the daily audience of the Louvre website has increased fourfold.
Purchasing and consumption
As Bertrand Krug says, “this period of lockdown has disrupted or accelerated new consumer practices. The period was very conducive to online commerce”. The audience of retail websites increased by 16% in March 2020 compared to March 2019: 16.4 million people visited these websites every day. The most striking phenomenon is the meteoric rise of driving to collect orders: websites and applications offering this purchasing system increased by 153% with 2.1 million unique daily visitors in March 2020.
Staying in touch
Television and the Internet have been essential means of keeping in touch with the outside world during lockdown. With education first. France 4 completely changed its schedule with La Maison Lumni, offering educational programmes for young people presented by teachers. Nearly 20 million French people watched Lumni lessons on television, including 3.7 million children aged 4-14 years. The average audience for primary school lessons is 203,000 viewers, with the record being 493,000 viewers on 30 March, the Internet has also helped to keep people in touch with education: in March, 9 million French people connected to an education or training website every day, a jump of 33% compared to March 2019.
The digital world has come into its own, by connecting loved ones, families and friends, as well as the world of work. The weight of social networks and messaging has increased significantly: 2.4 million additional unique visitors visited each day, or 38.3 million people on these sites and applications. Internet users spent more than a third (34%) of their time online on such sites and apps in March 2020 (+5 points compared to March 2019). In addition to the explosion of WhatsApp, which reached 13.5 million unique visitors (+ 65% in one year), usage on Discord (audience doubled in one year) and Tik Tok (+ 167% in one year) are accelerating. Video-conferencing services have emerged, some with very small audiences a year ago: the time spent on the Zoom application has increased tenfold in one month (7 million unique visitors in March 2020, 500,000 in March 2019); the Houseparty site achieved 1 million unique visitors in March.
Another sector that has boomed in these times in which health occupies a very important place is online medical consultation: it is used by 1.5 million unique visitors each day, a jump of 33% in one year.
How will these new habits evolve as lockdown is eased? Observing public behaviour in the coming weeks will probably still be insightful. For Julien Rosanvallon, “11 May marks the start of a new phase. The crisis has been a strong reminder of the importance of the media and digital technology in the lives of French people and of the major role of television in its capacity to create and bring together a collective. This crisis is the starting point for new lifestyle habits, which will also lead to new media uses”.
3 questions for Marine Boulanger, Director of Cinema & Entertainment at Médiamétrie:
What have you observed regarding leisure activities during lockdown?
As they are confined to their homes and sometimes unable to work, French people have had more free time, which has favoured more sedentary practices - media or other - as opposed to mobile and on-the-go usage. Therefore, reading, video games, piracy, television, SVOD and VOD have all benefited from lockdown. Television, both live and catch-up, has particularly progressed, conveying values of learning, information, discovery, entertainment and openness to the world. SVOD and video games have also risen sharply.
How has the use of SVOD changed during confinement?
According to our study on SVOD Audiences, we observe that since the confinement, an average of 18.4 million Internet users (34%) watched at least one piece of SVOD content each week, 6 million more than before confinement (12.4 million, 23% of Internet users). In terms of content, the audience still prefers TV series. However, the audience watched more films during confinement: they represent 30% of the content viewed, compared to 20% previously.
The use of SVOD, which has been on the increase since 2015, accelerated during lockdown. This phenomenon affects all profiles: 15-34 year-olds still lead the way, and since the start of confinement, we have seen a clear increase in the number of women, those aged 50 and over and children, notably with the arrival of Disney + and the free Prime Video offer for young people.
Do you think that the growth will continue or stabilise in the coming months?
This is what we will continue to measure each week with our “SVOD Audience” study, which has been measuring SVOD use since January 2020 in a weekly system, by interviewing 1,500 Internet users aged 4 and over online on their use of platforms, content viewed and media used. The study makes it possible to observe behaviours as a whole, by platform, by target, by content or by type of programme. What we see today is that audiences recognise many advantages to SVOD such as its ergonomics, its ease of cancellation, the amount and quality of its content, attractive prices, account sharing and the ease of appropriating it. Audiences give it an overall satisfaction rating of 8.3/10 and intend to continue using it in the next 6 months.
Laure Osmanian Molinero