The Coronavirus is impacting media habits and changing things rapidly.

Here’s what you need to know.

A lot has happened in paid media since the COVID-19 crisis hit Canada in March. You don’t need a research report to tell you that use of digital devices is up across the board. But many are surprised that TV viewership is up significantly. Radio listenership seemed like it might be on the rise, at first, but it has in fact decreased. Traffic on the street is way down so out of home — billboards, transit, superboards, etc. —  will all be underdelivering on projected audiences.

This article explores what this might mean now and what will it mean when the crisis is over and life returns to “normal”?


In our last entry, we looked at potential reasons why people are turning to TV in record numbers during this crisis. We have access to recent TV data from major Canadian markets like Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. We can see that TV viewership is on the rise, 36% up in daytime and 20% up in primetime over the previous 4 weeks. And not just with baby boomers — with all audiences.

TV rates (costs) are based on a combination of ratings and inventory. At the time of this article, there is a potential disconnect: high ratings combined with fluctuating demand on inventory. In other words, the rates have not yet started to catch up to the ratings, but this may change quickly.

Many advertisers do not have appropriate creative to run during a crisis, so they’re postponing or pulling their TV buys altogether.

We think this lower demand for TV time is based largely on the fact that many advertisers do not have tone-appropriate creative to run during a pandemic, so they’re pulling or postponing their buys all together. The truth is, there are excellent reasons to run television advertising during the crisis.

Once we near the end of the state of emergency, it is possible that networks will use the higher ratings and an anticipated higher demand on inventory to sell at higher than normal rates. Complete understanding of the actual value of what you are buying will be important in negotiating the best value.


Radio has been affected, too. In major market data from February 24 – March 22, 2020 shows a decrease in weekly reach as the working landscape changes. Across Canada, radio is showing a 5% drop in weekly reach for Adults 25-54 since January. Fewer folks commuting and more of us working from home is showing real-time effects. However, the drop is far more significant with adults 25-54. News, however, is increasing with all audiences.

Not surprisingly, listenership at home has increased significantly — up 29% between February 24 and March 30. A lot more people are also turning to streaming their favourite stations. This represents 19% of Adult 25-54 listenership, up from 11% in January.

Just like TV, pricing for radio buys are going to be complex as society returns to normal. A good media buyer will have access to the numbers, be able to compare pre and post crisis data, recognize the complexity of any buy and ensure that you’re getting the best value for your investment.


Outdoor advertising — billboards, super boards, transit etc. — are also in flux. These are measured twice per year. Fall data is released in January and Spring data is released in July. Any outdoor you may have bought recently using the January data will be based on traffic numbers from fall 2019, and will be seriously underdelivering during the lockdown.

Once again, pricing for outdoor advertising is going to be complex come normalcy. The anticipated drastic reduction in vehicle traffic numbers that will be revealed in the Spring data (released in July) will likely not be an accurate representation of what’s actually happening on the streets. But outdoor is still extremely effective for most consumer advertisers. We anticipate that once we’re completely on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, inventory will likely become expensive as demand reduces inventory.

Globally, ad spends are dropping significantly as advertisers cancel or postpone. But we’re not sure at this point what the economic impact for local and regional media might be. As retail advertising disappears federal, provincial and municipal governments are buying up inventory for public health messages. Some companies feel now isn’t the time to be in market and have put their brand into quarantine along with their staff. Others have quickly developed resonant messages that keep their brands relevant and in front of their audience.

Everyone is doing the best they can to accommodate the continuously changing media landscape created by the Coronavirus. It can be confusing, but we can help. If you’re buying media directly, we’d be happy to help you navigate these challenging times and make decisions that maximize your media effectiveness.

Let us know what you’re doing and what you think will happen in the weeks to come. Click here to send me an email.