COVID-19’s Fueled Bump Ends for Consumer Media Usage Growth


Consumer media usage growth slowed to a pre-pandemic norm of 1.6% in 2021, following the fastest growth since 1995 in 2020.

But, media consumption is poised to grow faster in 2022. That’s the key finding from the ninth annual Global Consumer Media Usage Forecast for 2021-2025 released Wednesday (1/12) by PQ Media.

Diverging from the sharp gain in momentum in advertising and marketing spending in 2020, consumer time spent with media registered a more modest uptick last year — mirroring pre-pandemic trends through 2019, when signs of device penetration saturation began to emerge.

According to PQ Media, global consumer media usage grew at a decelerated rate of
1.6%, to an average of 54.4 hours per week in 2021.

This compares to the pandemic-fueled boost of 3.1% in 2020 — the fastest increase in annual media consumption in 15 years.

COVID-19 and associated lockdown measures employed to stem its spread reversed slowing media usage growth trends. At the same time, cyclical trends expected to boost usage in other segments were postponed, such as the Summer Olympics. Importantly,  emerging growth trends in newer media accelerated, like the rise of streaming video and audio.

And, this was reflected in advertising data seen in other recent studies.

Interestingly, although media usage growth decelerated in 2021 due to many countries relaxing COVID mandates as cases declined, the gain was higher than anticipated and more in line with pre-pandemic levels. This was due, PQ Media notes, to the “unusual cyclical charge” from the postponed Summer Olympics; the rise of COVID-19 variants across Q4, leading to new restrictions in some areas; and what’s being called the “Great Resignation of 2021,” in which workers quit jobs in record numbers.


One of the byproducts of the pandemic, PQ Media says, is that the shift to digital media consumption has accelerated, rising from 22% in 2015 to an estimated 33.4% globally in 2021. In most developed countries, the share is over 40%. In fact, South Korea will become the first market in which the entire population averages more than 50% digital
media usage in 2022. Select generation groups are already posting over 60% digital media usage, such as Millennials in the Netherlands. This shift is a result of the strong growth of global digital media usage, which increased 8.3% in 2021 to 18.15 Hours Per Week (HPW), after a double-digit increase in 2020, whereas traditional media consumption is expected to fall 1.4% in 2021 to 36.23 HPW, the fifth consecutive year of decline.

Key digital media growth drivers were mobile video, OTT streaming video services, audio streaming services & podcasting, digital books, digital out-of-home (OOH) media, and videogames (console and digital), PQ Media data show.

While traditional media usage fell across most media platforms, the exceptions are over-the-air radio, print books and traditional out-of-home advertising.

For OTA radio and OTT, PQ Media says growth for each media was fueled by more cars on
the road — bring growth that exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2019.


In 2022, media consumption is projected to grow at an accelerated rate of 2.5%, driven by what PQ Media calls “new, more compelling original content releases, various international sporting events and federal elections in several of the top 20 global media markets.”

Foremost among the sporting events are the FIFA World Cup coverage from Qatar (almost 3.5 billion viewers in 2018); the Winter Olympics from China; and rugby’s World Cup in the
U.K. In addition, the United States will feature a number of hotly contested federal elections late in the year.

“We expect media consumption to exhibit more jagged growth patterns during the forecast period due to the rapid shift to digital media that allows 24/7 access to content,” PQ Media CEO Patrick Quinn said. “Media usage will continue to rise in even years, driven by sporting events and elections, such as the Paris Summer Olympics and US presidential election in
2024, followed by flat growth in the following odd years for the overall global market and declining usage in developed nations, like the U.S.”

That’s because PQ Media believes media consumption has reached a saturation point. “While the pandemic reversed some secular trends in 2020, this was simply a short-
term disruption of key long-term trends that began to re-emerge in late 2021. The key factors remain, as various traditional media usage will continue to either decelerate or decline, such as cable TV and print media subscriptions, while smartphone penetration is at or near saturation in major markets worldwide and several internet and mobile media channels will continue to experience slower annual growth.”


Among other highlights from the report, the “Great Generation” (those born before 1945) uses media the most, an average of 93.1 hours per week in 2021.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, those aged 19 and under are increasing usage the most, up 13.6% in 2021. This is driven by videogames, books and various forms of digital media, PQ Media.

And, in perhaps a warning shot to broadcast TV and radio, those between the ages of 10 and 26 are the first generation in which digital media usage exceeds traditional media.



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