The Impact of COVID-19 on Live Streaming Habits in Singapore

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Approximately a month after the rise of live streaming in Singapore, COVID-19 began to circulate in Singapore and heavily affected the livelihoods of many Singaporeans. Due to COVID-19, multiple industries were unable to operate during the circuit breaker, and people were forced to work from home. The food and beverage industry and many of the arts and entertainment industry were heavily affected, almost causing businesses to go bust. The effect of COVID-19 had major impacts on the livelihoods of many individuals, and almost everyone was finding ways to save and earn money without dipping too much into their pockets.

Live streaming content has been around in Singapore for quite some time now; however, it only started to catch on in late 2018 due to improvements in both internet reliability and the technology used. Live streaming Singapore is widely seen on multiple platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, where people can go live easily. However, the technology behind live streaming Singapore is widely due to the availability of the app Twitch, one of the world’s leading live streaming platforms where people stream content of all sorts. Live streaming has become a ‘side job’ and has effectively become a source of income for a number of Singaporeans.

Background of live streaming in Singapore

Live streaming is a relatively new form of entertainment in Singapore. Primarily, it is an online viewing experience in which users can watch live broadcasts from the comfort of their own home. According to the latest statistics from GlobalWebIndex, 23% of Singapore internet users aged 16-64 are consuming live streams. This is based on GWI’s Q3 2016 research. The research company has also identified that 69% of consumers are more likely to stream a live video than read a blog from a brand that they follow. It is evident from these statistics that while live streaming is still in its infancy in Singapore, it has a big potential for growth, especially with marketing and social media influencers using it as a way to reach out to consumers. This shows that some form of live streaming is attracting the attention of Singapore consumers. With an already large market of VoD consumers aged between 16-24 and 25-34, there is a high potential for live streaming to be just as popular, if not more popular, than it is in other Asian countries. Live streaming in Singapore comes in many forms, from watching live concerts to events like the Singapore Indoor Stadium hosting ESL’s One based on the popular game DOTA 2. These types of global events being held in Singapore can create a demand due to fans of such events not being able to attend; therefore, live streaming provides an alternative. Largely, the gaming community is a large contributor to live streaming in Singapore, with gamers using and watching live streams on platforms like Twitch.tv to broadcast or watch live gameplay.

Overview of COVID-19 pandemic

With this, the Media Literacy Council has also reviewed the Internet Code of Practice (2012) and announced on the 12th of May, “The changes being made to the Internet Code of Practice are timely and necessary. With more people, especially the young and the elderly, spending a significant amount of time online, it becomes increasingly important to ensure a safer and more secure online environment. This is a significant move for the industry to encourage more wholesome online content to cater to different audiences.” This reflects the increasing need for good quality, safe content for different age groups who are spending more time online.

Singapore reported its first case of COVID-19 on 23 January 2020. As the virus spread and measures such as the Circuit Breaker were introduced, people were required to stay home, resulting in more time being spent on digital devices. This includes the older generations who had to adopt digital tools for work or to access information. These changes in the media consumption habits and the increased audience present an opportunity for marketers and content producers to better engage the audiences.

Changes in Live Streaming Habits

The shift in content preference is also attributed to the rise of free time among youth and young adults. Ngee Ann Polytechnic recently interviewed its students and noted that many of them have lowered productivity or have too much free time. Students are no longer occupied with school work and part-time jobs due to the suspension of classes and non-essential services. It was noted that many youths were browsing YouTube or streaming platforms as a means of entertainment and to kill time. With the increase in free time, numerous youths expressed boredom and a desire to seek out alternative forms of digital entertainment.

During this period, there has been a change in the preference for certain content while live streaming. Digital content related to COVID-19, such as MOH’s live press conferences, has attracted higher view counts and a larger Singaporean audience. This is due to the importance of receiving accurate and relevant information pertaining to COVID-19. There has also been an observed increase in preference for eSports content. In late March, there was a Facebook gaming tournament called ‘The $100,000 Pacific Championship Series’ featuring top League of Legends teams in the Asian region, including Singapore’s representative, Resurgence. With traditional sports events being put on hold, eSports has filled the gap for sports content in the digital entertainment sphere.

Live streaming viewership has increased drastically after the pandemic. The Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) reported an increase in the time spent on digital content to 7.2 hours per day compared to 6.4 hours in 2019. Daily live streaming viewership was reported to increase by 19% with 1.1 million viewers in 2020. The increase in streaming viewership is due to various factors. Firstly, citizens were advised to stay at home for schooling and work if possible. The increase in home-based learning and remote work encouraged individuals to seek out home entertainment during their break times. Additionally, members of the public were advised to stay indoors, limit physical interactions, and go out only for essential purposes such as buying food or seeking medical help. This has led to the cancellation of events and other outdoor activities. The lack of outdoor activities and physical interaction has led to a greater demand for digital forms of entertainment, including live streaming. Viewers experience a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and excitement when watching live streams of influencers or content creators engaged in online activities.

Increase in live streaming viewership

At the same time, there have been changes in viewing habits across various age groups. When comparing the different age groups, the survey showed that the increase in frequency across all age groups is relatively similar with the exception of citizens aged 50 and above. Although this age group still has the lowest frequency of live streaming compared to the younger age groups, there has been a significant increase in their live streaming frequency. Digging even deeper, the specific generation with the highest increase in viewership is the Generation X. These changes in viewing behavior indicate that live streaming is now a more prevalent form of entertainment across the board, and even older citizens are now getting used to the idea of tuning in to catch a live stream.

Viewership of live streaming has increased substantially since the implementation of lockdown measures. The survey shows that 39% of citizens now watch live streaming on a daily basis, an 11% increase from before. Of this group of daily viewers, 43% of them are now watching live streaming multiple times a day. This shows that the frequency of live streaming has increased for viewers who were already watching live streaming before the implementation of the lockdown. There has also been a shift in viewing habits for the 18% of citizens who previously did not watch live streaming. 63% of these respondents shared that they are now watching live streaming more than before. These findings show that live streaming has gained a new audience among citizens who previously did not tune in. With live streaming as the only form of performance for musicians and other artists during the circuit breaker period, these results are in line with the increased consumption of live streamed concerts and other performances.

Shift in content preferences

In our current climate, it is clear that habits are changing. Since the implementation of lockdown in Singapore, internet usage has surged by 30-50% according to the Infocomm Media Development Authority. In particular, live streaming has become a popular form of entertainment as viewers are stuck at home with more free time. Even beginners have been taking to live streaming using their mobile cameras. The shift from traditional TV to live streaming has seen a 60% increase in the amount of time viewers are spending on it. Singaporeans have been consuming more live streamed content, according to a study by Milieu Insight of 1000 citizens’ views, due to the flexible and interactive nature of live streaming. Due to its flexibility, viewers are able to watch it while doing other things as the background noise isn’t as invasive compared to traditional video especially useful with children being home all day. The ability to interact with a live streamer allows viewers to pose questions about the current situation of Covid-19 and to voice their own opinions, creating a sense of community. These are luxuries that traditional TV cannot offer. Tung from Tung’s music diary (a music lecturer) notes that it is important to keep a good practice routine during this period but finds it hard to do so when he’s back in Hong Kong with family and pets around. By hosting his practice sessions on Twitch, he is able to keep himself accountable and is less likely to be interrupted by yelling his children. His audience gets to watch his progress, and learn from his teachings while still being able to engage and ask questions.

Rise of live streaming platforms

  • The surge in platforms was also a result of local organizations taking their events and performances online. For instance, PinkDot organizers hosted a live stream event via Facebook Live to replace the traditional event. The Singapore Cocktail Festival launched their Stay Home and Make a Cocktail effort, which included live masterclasses with local and international bartenders hosted through the Singapore Cocktail Festival Facebook page. According to a study conducted by Citizen Relations Singapore, over 50% of Singaporeans have participated in online events or watched live streams by local event organizers. The study also noted that viewership for all online events, from free to paid, saw strong support and participation across all age groups. This is a strong indicator of Singaporeans becoming new users of these online platforms while supporting local events and talent.
  • There was a marked increase in the number of live streaming platforms utilized by Singaporeans during the Circuit Breaker period. Local TikTok personality and fashion influencer Leslie Koh said users flocked to TikTok for live streams and content. Darren Tan, 21, said he found out about BIGO Live streaming and Singaporean streamers through Instagram model Promina. That was when I started trying BIGO and some local streamers for the first time. I suppose I discovered the platform indirectly, he said. Kaykay, a frequent mobile legends streamer, also noted the increase in users and streamers across all platforms. From my friends, I hear Twitch and Facebook Gaming have also seen a spike of gamers switching to them for the exposure and better profit, she said.

Impacts on Live Streaming Industry

The increase in audience consumption of media entertainment proves potential business opportunities for content creators alike. With more Singaporeans in quarantine looking for sources of entertainment, there is now an increase in demand for video content. This newly found free time for many Singaporeans would mean more eyeballs on live streams and pre-recorded videos. Tan also quotes that with live entertainment activities coming to a halt, he has received inquiries from other event organizers on moving their events online, which certainly helps the creative industry and artists who depend on event gigs for income. An example of a successful event that moved online would be Stärker Music Carnival. The 2-hour online event hosted by Hossan Leong garnered close to 19k views and raised over $3.6k for the arts and entertainment freelancers in Singapore who are heavily affected by the current COVID-19 situation.

The live streaming industry has seen a drastic increase in the number of content consumers over the past few years. According to a study done by MPA, the number of Singaporeans watching subscription video on-demand has significantly increased since 2018, growing from 28% to 41% in just 2 years.

Opportunities for content creators

A sharp rise in the number of people using the internet, mobile devices, and social media platforms has significantly increased the potential audience for live streaming. As of January 2020, 3.8 million people in Singapore have been recorded to be active users on social media platforms, and that number has only increased as a result of everyone being asked to stay home for the Circuit Breaker. With more time on their hands and unable to head out for the type of entertainment they are used to, like shopping and dining, which are limited due to the temporary closures of retail outlets and dining in at restaurants. This means they are turning to the internet to find a form of entertainment that is easily accessible from home. With the closure of many businesses, both big and small, countless employees have been either laid off or put on unpaid leave, which has caused a rise in interest in online freelancing, primarily e-sports and live streaming. In fact, platforms like Twitch have already seen a 20% increase in viewership within the first quarter of 2020. With a larger audience and more potential for income, this may encourage many to continue with live streaming as a full-time job even after the Covid-19 situation has stabilized.

Challenges faced by traditional media

A second reason for reduced activity is found through the streaming of the eSports industry. With competitive gaming being vastly popular with younger generations, its audience is targeted quite effectively through live streaming. A study found that eSports fans can spend an average of 2.27 hours per week watching others play games, with 50% preferring to watch through a streaming service. This viewership has signaled many competitive sponsors to transfer marketing investments from TV ads to pre-roll and sponsored content within streams.

Live streaming has caused reduced activity in traditional media for a few reasons, which can be quite easily observed. The first is that live streaming services will commonly bypass international restrictions put in place by TV networks and provide live streams of events exclusive to certain regions. An example of this is the UFC, a North American event which may not be covered by Oceanic TV networks until the following day. Live streaming access would mean the need to avoid results and wait a day to watch are effectively removed. The same can be said for those trying to watch events not available in their region. High-profile events, namely the Olympic Games and World Cup, have fallen victim to this trend, with viewership numbers on live broadcast TV down from previous years.

While the live streaming industry has seen incredible growth, very few industries have grown at the immediate rate observed in this one due to the expansive reach streaming has. It could be suggested that this has challenged the traditional media forms such as TV and radio. Tailby suggests that “the main impact of streaming is felt by broadcast television and radio, with ‘binge watching’ and ‘on demand’ video streaming significantly encroaching on broadcast media.”

Influence on advertising and marketing strategies

As Singaporeans are now partaking in e-commerce more than ever before, many large brands and businesses have moved their sales online and will continue to do so. With various platform-exclusive online sales events taking place, it has been noted that brands are shifting towards event marketing strategies to increase hype and drive sales with the collaboration of live streamers. One popular event type seen as effective will be the hosting of lucky draws and giveaways during a live stream to promote viewer participation and increase brand product awareness. With promotions and event mechanics serving as content substance for influencer live streams, this type of collaboration is mutually beneficial for event hosts and live streamers, as it satisfies brand goals and provides engaging sponsored content.

During the pandemic, many influencers on live streaming platforms have seen a shift in advertising and marketing strategy. With more homebound audiences preferring videos, the influence and demand for offline or online video marketing has surged. There is now a higher priority on producing and promoting quality video ads for marketers, as it has been noted that Singaporeans have expressed an increase in their consumption of video content across all platforms. Integrating influencer marketing into their content, many brands have sought opportunities to collaborate with content creators to represent their products in the best light. This has been proven to be an effective advertising method, as live streaming provides an interactive demonstration that helps increase product understanding and trust.

Future Trends and Outlook

Live streaming has gained a form of newfound relevance and its value has never been higher in recent decades. In the short term, the surge in demand has caused tech companies to re-evaluate their policies with regards to live stream takedowns and content moderation. The government has also worked to ensure that false information and harmful content is taken down quickly so as to not mislead the public, indicating that they too see the importance of live streaming as a tool for mass communication in times of crisis.

The impact brought about by COVID-19 will have long-lasting effects on the way in which people in Singapore consume media and entertainment. With many spending a greater amount of time at home during the circuit breaker period and having to find alternate forms of entertainment due to the decreased ability to engage in outdoor activities, they have discovered that live streaming can serve as a suitable replacement. This change in behavior will carry on beyond the pandemic as people become accustomed to integrating live streaming into their daily lives.

Integration of live streaming into daily life

We would also expect the habit to integrate within daily media practices to continue past isolation. This is supported by results showing a change in life in which participants think of live streaming, TV, and video games as separate activities. Certain contents within the home setting such as fitness video streams and music concert live streams have also acted as replacement activities as opposed to attending fitness classes or going to a concert. Because of convenience, 12.6% participants who did the activity for the first time say they would not have tried it if not for the COVID-19 circuit breaker and 47.9% have interest to continue the activity. A similar picture is painted by change in live streaming device use, which has shifted from primarily being phone based, to more evenly spread between computers and TV, with an increase in other TV based activities such as watching YouTube and regular TV. This is reinforced by participant statements, suggesting TV based consumption is a deliberate action to replace regular TV watching habits. The change in device used shows how participants’ dedicated time spent on live streaming content has grown and that they prefer it on a bigger screen for entertainment value. Device use change especially in music streams and music performance streams show that live streaming has partly replaced existing media, rather than being an additional activity. For example, one participant expressed disappointment about missing a music festival, but still enjoyed watching a live streamed music performance with friends and having drinks. In contrast, the increased quantity of educational and instructional type streams suggests an addition to existing media activities.

Technological advancements in live streaming

The improvement of streaming technology is also likely to have a big impact on interactive entertainment that is indirectly related to live streaming. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being integrated into live events; the most accessible example being the Pokémon GO mobile game, which included an AR component while players wandered their cities to participate in live events. High fidelity VR is likely to become more practical for simulating live event attendance within the next decade. This will also extend to various forms of simulated gambling and video games, with the lines becoming increasingly blurred as online and offline events integrate the technology into their content delivery.

As with other aspects of daily life, live streaming is highly likely to become more technologically advanced in the long run. At present, it is mostly used for broadcasting events; however, this trend is already changing. Singapore’s Media Development Authority commissioned a study to conduct a trial of streaming a first-run movie concurrently over the internet and in cinemas. The study proved that there was no impact on movie sales in the traditional platform and was considered a success by industry and consumers in providing more options for content delivery. Other experimental uses of the technology include the Infocomm Development Authority’s live streaming of National Day Parade to Singaporean soldiers serving abroad.

Potential long-term effects on entertainment industry

These changes in consumer behavior, coupled with an increase in streaming service investment in new content, are expected to gradually change the global video landscape.

There may be long-lasting impacts on the entertainment industry as a result of COVID-19 and the increased popularity of streaming services. The lockdowns and curfews associated with the pandemic led more people to watch streaming services, and it is predicted that after the pandemic has passed, some of these people will have gotten used to streaming and will switch to using streaming services predominantly over paid TV. There is also a prediction that social features in streaming services will increase in popularity, which will, in turn, take viewers away from live broadcasts and traditional TV, also leading to a decrease in consumer spending on DVD and Blu-Ray. Service-specific films may see an increase in production due to a greater audience being at home looking for new content. For example, Netflix has already announced that they are increasing their investment in original content.

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