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How COVID changed media consumption in America

Monitoring Desk

The COVID-19 crisis put the news cycle on overdrive and propelled a massive shift to digital media — forcing consumers to sort through more news and information than ever before.

Why it matters: In an attempt to navigate that influx, Americans leaned deeper into partisan echo chambers, further polarizing the nation.

Details: The gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ trust in mass media reached an all-time high by the end of 2020, and their media diets continued to diverge.

The big picture: The shift to virtual life, and a major decline of trust in media, wreaked havoc on the health of America’s information ecosystem.

  • A majority of Americans last year said said they saw made-up news about the pandemic and the election.
  • An analysis from NewsGuard, provided to Axios, found that unreliable news websites significantly increased their share of engagement among the top performing news sources on social media last year.

Be smart: For Americans looking to escape the headlines, entertainment content became easier to access at home than ever before, thanks for heavy investments in streaming from Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

  • Several new streaming services launched in the past year, including HBO Max, Peacock, Paramount+, and Discovery+. Subscription video streaming increased by 33.9% from 2019 to 2020, per eMarketer.
  • With theaters mostly shut, consumers for the first time were able to experience an array of new movies from the convenience of their homes.
  • Lockdowns nudged more Americans to invest in internet-connected devices like smart speakers, which helped to contribute to a massive audio boom throughout the pandemic — especially for podcasts.
  • The lack of live sports pushed more media companies to invest in content around sports betting, as the practice became legalized in many more states.

What’s next: Many of these habits will be hard to undo. Screen time for kids and adults has consistently increased over the past year, despite easing COVID restrictions. Evidence disputing major conspiracy theories hasn’t helped to break filter bubbles. And the traditional 90-day window between theatrical and streaming releases is unlikely to return.