Even under a stay-at-home order, connectivity matters more than ever.
People are using their electronic devices to connect with family and friends and find an escape from the anxiety producing effects of a global pandemic and economic turmoil.
“Content has always been a way for people to escape,” says Jason Thibeault, executive director of the Streaming Video Alliance, a global tech organization of companies such as hulu and Disney working to improve streaming video and increase adoption of the technology. “Whether it’s movies or games, plays or books, content provides that outlet to step away from the anxieties and pressures of life.”
Across America, millions are latching on to video games and streaming services to pass the time while awaiting a return to jobs and school.
Netflix picked up nearly 16 million new global subscribers during the first three months of 2020, taking it to 183 million subscribers as the COVID-19 pandemic struck in Asia, Europe and then the United States.
More evidence that video streaming is an essential service during the pandemic comes from Walt Disney Co.’s new streaming service Disney+, which launched in November 2019. By April, it had amassed 50 million paid subscribers. The channel is stocked with perennial Disney classics, Marvel movies and the Star Wars series, making it a huge hit with children.
Likewise, video games are keeping Americans entertained and connected. The Entertainment Software Association, the U.S. video game industry’s trade association, says the pandemic has produced a coalescing around video games like never before.
“At a time when our world is facing so much uncertainty, video games are bringing us together more than ever,” says Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association on the group’s website.
Video games played by multiple users together online provide a social outlet while complying with stay-at-home orders.
And it’s not just teenagers who escape with video games. The ESA reports that people in every demographic play video games. Some 46% of players in the United States are women, and just as many people under 18 play as those over 50.
Electricity networks are the backbone that empower all of this digital connection and entertainment. Internet bandwidth must be just as strong.
Stay-at-home orders have tested assumptions internet service providers previously made about when demand for connectivity would be the strongest. Instead of being busiest during evening primetime hours, networks are busy all day and night this springtime.
Comcast, which operates the largest residential internet network in the United States, has seen an unprecedented shift in network usage. From March 1 through April 15, Comcast reported a 32% increase in upstream traffic, which is data sent from a computer or a network, such as sending an email.
Entertainment, streaming and gaming activities dominate Comcast’s usage, with gaming downloads up 77% and streaming and web video consumption up 37% since March 1.
“This is a moment where everyone is realizing we built something that works way beyond what we had imagined would be the number of people streaming at this moment,” says Thibeault. “Our North American networks have been performing admirably. All in all, the internet has proven it can handle this.”
When it comes to video streaming, Thibeault says, the beauty of the technology is that it has taken video out of a propriety gated system once controlled only by movie studios and networks and put it in the hands of just about anyone. Along with the giant content streamers and producers such as Amazon, Netflix and HBO Max, which will launch in May, smaller providers can thrive focusing on a niche market. That is the case for Crunchyroll, which streams only Japanese animation.
With families staying at home together, younger and older generations are likely sharing ideas about what content is available and finding new ways to be entertained. While young people are fully accustomed to streaming video, Thibeault says Baby Boomers are also avid users of streaming services.
“Younger kids grew up on streaming,” Thibeault says. “The older folks have come to streaming looking for content they can’t get on TV, like the older shows they used to watch. Now they are some of the biggest consumers of data in the house.”
That means there is something streaming for everyone, from those looking for classic war movies to those wanting content from the Smithsonian Institute.
“I am so thankful we have so much content to take our minds off the anxiety that we can’t go out and live our lives as normal,” Thibeault says. “But for the good of the tribe, we can stay inside and in the meantime, lose ourselves for a few hours a day. It’s a good thing.”
Laura Williams-Tracy is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to American City Business Journals on a wide range of topics and covers business and finance issues for sectors of the commercial real estate industry.