Contex and Intro:
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the entire world was forcefully transitioned into an online lifestyle to minimize human interaction. While the specific scenario is grim, it allows for a unique opportunity to observe the machinations of a completely virtual human society. Media has been steadily gaining power ever since the Internet became a prominent part of our daily lives, and simply exploded with usage and development during the pandemic. Everyone lived and breathed virtually – using existing online infrastructure trying to replace what used to be with subpar, but still better-than-nothing webcam interactions.
Healthcare workers in Beijing sanitize a public area, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51509248
We all have personal experience with the effects of the pandemics on consumers, but what about the producer-side economics over the pandemic? How have companies adapted to and taken advantage of consumer behavior? What can we, as the general public learn from the economics of the media during times of the pandemic?
Zoom is an incredibly popular online meeting service.
Overview of the Pandemic:
It seems so long ago, but Covid-19 has hardly been around for more than a year. The very first lockdowns began in January, 2020. Immediately, everyone searched for ways to transfer their lifestyle online – whether this meant creating an entirely new platform for learning and working from home, or simply ordering Panda Express from DoorDash for the first time, everyone had a substantial portion of their lives digitized. This transition, while hectic, was not terribly distressing. Most services in 1st – 2nd world countries had been prepared for weeks and/or had proficient existing infrastructure to support their population. The economic sector was not blind to the pandemic either; for example, many on wall street had taken the pandemic into account months before when leaks from the WHO had been published.
Throughout the pandemic, the economic sector involving the physical purchase of goods and services practically disappeared. There was no business to be done, not only from fear of COVID, but also because it was unlawful to do so during lockdown. Mirroring the vaporization of the physical economic sector, the online business sector promptly exploded. This wasn’t unforeseen; in fact, the growth of online business and the crumbling last stand of physical business had long been observed throughout the 2010’s. Some notable examples include the boom of online shipping and the bankruptcy of once-famous companies such as Blockbuster in 2010 and the recent closing of the last 2 Toys-R-Us shops in the US.
The Rise of Huge Media
From a long-term point of view, it seems that the pandemic simply served as a catalyst to permanently shift the consumer-producer relationship online. These relations didn’t just include shopping for physical items, either. From the huge spike in the average amount of time spent online by the average consumer, there was enormous business opportunity, and many companies used this to their advantage. What followed was a clamour to establish monopolies in all corners of the internet – some existing companies such as Amazon and Zoom had significant preexisting advantage, and as people simply turned to what was easily available, many of these companies experienced personalized economic booms.
Advertising/campaigning, in particular, has significantly grown in power and popularity over the pandemic due to its preexistence and prevalence on the internet. While consumer spending has dropped overall throughout the pandemic, online advertising was often the only choice for many businesses to stay afloat. The unique flexibility and ability to instantly connect with thousands, if not millions of potential customers is something that is unique to online advertisements; this power scales with the size of the consumerbase, thus wondrous potential was reached with the huge targetable demographic during the pandemic.
The consumer shift also changed the policy and idea of “exposure” forever – as many spent countless hours online, it was inevitable that this precious time was seen as an opportunity. News, entertainment, learning, all forms of “exposure” to the common individual were significantly exaggerated and exacerbated throughout the pandemic. The way that we receive and accept information has been completely changed, with most of the masses absorbing information and consequently being influenced by the tumultuous, changing landscape that is the modern media. For example, Fox News, CNN, and several other notable mass influencers received a huge spike in active listeners, and a consequent inflation of their ratings. Enormous social media groups and individuals who managed to shine through competition grew significantly, larger than had previously even been thought possible. A couple examples include Ludwig, an American-based streamer streaming nonstop for over a month and amassing over 280 thousand paid followers, the speedy rise and fall of pop culture symbols such as the popular video game Among Us, etc. What we are currently living through may be the largest pop culture shift of our generation – the speed and chaos at which ideas and information are spread between individuals has never been faster. Therein exists a peculiar paradox – we live in quarantine, more isolated than ever, but we develop and are more interconnected than at any other point in human history; we are physically contained to ourselves, yet, we are more easily influenced by outside forces than ever before.
Will the consumer effects of the pandemic dissipate as suddenly as they were forced into existence? Perhaps not. In fact, it seems that consumer effects and habits may be one of the more permanent consequences of the pandemic lifestyle.
Everyone is eager to leave the days of the pandemic behind, and to resume the proper progression of our lives. However, it seems that the logistics behind the pandemic lifestyle are here to stay. The technology and corresponding systems that allowed us to retain some degree of normality during the pandemic are nothing short of concurrent; the technology and the research developed during and for the pandemic have an extremely broad range of usage elsewhere. For example, many, if not all, physical businesses adopted some kind of online platform during the pandemic, making such transactions far more convenient for consumers; many consumers were exposed to new markets and products during the pandemic that they would have never interacted with otherwise. Even after the pandemic, such economic effects of customer and producer loyalty will continue to influence particular markets.
In addition to specific services and goods, online platforms have also dramatically increased their consumer base throughout the pandemic – these generally included companies and businesses that could already provide service within the specific requirements of the pandemic. Amazon and Zoom now continue to cement their prevalence for decades to come, simply due to the enormous consumerbase that was amassed during the pandemic.
Lastly, let us address the balance between the online and physical economy. It’s not surprising to hear that the online economy has been steadily growing and replacing the physical economy, as new generations and modern expectations continue to favor the online world… while the physical economy was indeed shrinking, such businesses still had a firm grasp on certain sectors such as dining, entertainment, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that the pandemic has established a permanent upper hand to the online business sector while forcing many longstanding real world facilities and cooperations into bankruptcy. Businesses that did not survive the pandemic will have difficulty reviving, if ever; consumers that have been exposed to the power and convenience of online services are very likely to continue using them in the future.