The last time I recall commerce and travel being impacted as much as it is now because of a virus epidemic, it was 2003 when SARS was sweeping across Asia. I was living in Singapore, and managing Yahoo!’s video streaming business. SARS led to a surge in business activity for my business unit. The shift was front and center. Companies moved away from hosting physical conferences and events, and moved towards using Yahoo! Broadcast’s live streaming service. Cisco Systems asked my team to produce a live stream featuring its CEO John Chambers in place of its region-wide developer conference. Travel was restricted, but business continued.
This past month, COVID-19 has quickly moved from an epidemic impacting my family and friends living in Asia, to a global pandemic affecting my family and friends living in America. In the past week, the principal of my kids’ school and the pastor of the local church have both announced they tested positive for coronavirus. While the public health and economic crisis today exceeds the reach of SARS, the ripple effect of coronavirus on video streaming and the Creator economy is reminiscent of what I experienced in 2003.
When I spoke to Dave Lazar, the CEO of STAGE TEN (one of my company’s early investments) today, I learned demand for his company’s live video streaming offering has driven revenue up 500% in the past two weeks. In the past week, over one thousand churches turned to Dave’s company to deliver live streaming sermons to their congregation. Prominent education creators and providers are turning to homeschooling support using STAGE TEN tools. Meanwhile, Hollywood talent and productions forced to pause on-set shoots are figuring out how to stay active in the coming months with live content and remote workarounds.
In seeking to understand what ecosystem changes have occurred over the past month, I conducted some research and here is what I found so far:
Live streaming content is peaking. On YouTube, it happened this month on Sunday, March 22 with 125,000 active accounts and 175,000 live streams in the day. Facebook peaked on Wednesday, March 25 with 70,200 active accounts and 130,000 live streams. (as I write this, I don’t have insight on Sunday, March 29 onwards).
The total number of live streams on YouTube in March is up 93% year-over-year (YoY), and 7% month-over-month (MoM). Facebook is up 8% in both time periods. YouTube’s growth appears to be driven by creators and companies located outside of the USA. US-based YouTube live streams are up 7% YoY and 13% MoM.
60% of YouTube live streams in March 2020 have at least 100 views, whereas it is 89% on Facebook. Could this difference have to do with notifications and discovery on each platform?
Most popular live streams on YouTube in March 2020 are from India-based television news channels. Aaj Tak, NDTV and ABP top the list. India is YouTube’s #1 market globally for DAU, so the presence of these broadcasters at the top of the list makes sense.
Given the number of home-bound young children due to school closures and extra screen time, several popular kids content producers have launched 24/7 live streams on YouTube this month. WB Kids is offering a highlight reel of Tom and Jerry. PAW Patrol and Peppa Pig are in on the action as well. These channels have over 50 million views of their live streams to date.
The change in viewing activity on YouTube is pronounced in categories I would expect to experience jumps in view counts:
News & Politics view counts hit a two-year peak on YouTube. It is up 80% from March 9 to March 22.
Personality & Vlog content is also hitting a two-year peak, as views are up 29% in the same March period.
Health & Fitness views are up 33%, and Kids & Animation content is up 30%. Both genres are very popular in my household with my wife and kids.
Gaming, music, and general entertainment content appear to be performing at the same level as before coronavirus. Travel content, as expected, is trending down.
I noticed sports television networks are airing old broadcasts, and late night television has moved from a sound stage to the host’s own home. It will be interesting to see the mid- to long-term impact on scripted television and animated content as productions have paused. What is the impact on the US Fall television pilot season? What is going to air in the place of these programs if they are not ready for broadcast? Will this further push consumer attention towards digital platforms?
TikTok creators are arguably well positioned to flourish in this coronavirus environment. They continue to shoot content on their mobile phone, in the confines of their home. YouTube creators, on the other hand, have transitioned over the years from solo shoots in their bedroom, to larger productions with a crew and on-location shoots. The latter is harder to execute in this current environment.
Overall uploads on YouTube are down 1% MoM globally, and down 3% in the US. From a YoY perspective, uploads in March are up 16% globally and down 16% in the US. The contribution of uploads from creators, and not media companies, does not appear to be less impacted. Output from this group is down 10% YoY, and down 1% in the past month.
The next couple of months will reveal how the market adjusts to a post-COVID-19 world. I have found YouTube’s recommendations help me discover videos uploaded months to years ago. My 10-year old son and I spent over an hour this weekend watching a highlight reel of Stephen Curry’s March Madness run when he played for Davidson, then followed by another highlight reel of the playoff run that led to Curry’s first NBA championship. I found myself getting excited after several scores as if I was watching the game for the first time. How well does the library value of creator-produced content hold up by comparison to the television archives on YouTube?
Q1 2020 earnings reports will be a good window into how COVID-19 has impacted the tech titans, for better or for worse. Apple posted $27 billion in revenue in Q4 2019 from Asia Pacific, and the region accounted for 30% of its global total. The region has become important to both Google and Facebook, accounting for 16% and 17% of their global revenue, respectively. Tencent and Alibaba have large businesses in online gaming and e-commerce, both of which were reported to have seen increased demand throughout Q1 as people stayed home. Tencent generated $16 billion last year in online gaming revenue, and Alibaba made nearly $27 billion from advertising-centered fees on its Taobao e-commerce platform.
I have enjoyed digging into NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts archives on YouTube, and look forward to when they can resume bringing artists into their office studio.
Stay safe everyone.