America’s attention recession

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New data shows there has been a pullback from historically high levels of media audience growth – and in some cases consumption – during 2020, pointing to signs of a slight “attention slowdown” over the past few months.

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big picture: The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a once-in-a-lifetime boom in the online attention economy, but the gradual return to normal life in many places – coupled with media overload and exhaustion – has led to a decline in consumption patterns.

why it matters: “We are returning to more normal growth levels than during the pandemic,” says Ian Olgirson, a research director at S&P Global’s media research unit, Kagan. In some areas, “for 2022, we expect growth to be even higher in 2021 than before.”


description: The withdrawal from domestic activities has negatively impacted the growth of many media industries on a year-on-year basis.

  • Broadband: A new report from Kagan shows that broadband subscriber growth “became pretty cool in the third quarter,” hitting growth for the first time in three years. The report said the fall can be attributed to “a rough comparison with the fast-moving gains of 2020.”
  • Subscription Streaming: Subscription streaming subscriber growth for most of the major streaming services slowed last quarter. “The brainstorming is a challenge as consumers return to a new normal routine,” said Andrew Hare, SVP of research for global media and entertainment at media research firm Magid.
  • News: According to data from SimilarWeb, the consumption of news has decreased. Readership in the top 10 most visited news sites decreased by 12.4% between October 2020 and October 2021.

yes but: According to SimilarWeb, this year is still outperforming 2019 in terms of news engagement.

  • And despite slowing levels of subscriber growth, home broadband and streaming usage still exceeds 2019.
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Bottom-line: “I don’t think media consumption will go back to pre-COVID levels,” said Seema Shah, senior director of experience and research and analysis at SimilarWeb.

  • While we’ve hit a point of saturation for growth in several subscription areas, analysts say there’s a lot of room for growth in the US for free, ad-supported streaming.

what to watch: Some of the supply chain issues related to the pandemic will continue to contribute to the slow media growth for the next few months.

  • For example, Roku warned on its latest earnings call that the slowdown in its active account growth last quarter was, in large part, due to “global supply chain disruptions that have impacted the US TV market.”
  • Kagan’s latest Industry Outlook report similarly warns that a shortage of semiconductors for some media sectors “will affect the flow of equipment and limit headroom for growth”.


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