Some of the most interesting -- and sometimes surprising -- insights charting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on America has come from media stats, but not necessarily the obvious ones. Sure, we all know by now that at-home media usage -- especially for linear TV, connected TV, OTT, and various streaming services -- soared following the beginning of stay-at-home orders in early March. And, according to a UBS analysis of Nielsen data, TV usage levels have already normalized -- and even fallen to pre-pandemic levels (likely mirroring normal seasonal usage trends) -- as America has begun to open up, or at least gone outdoors again.
But it's other kinds of media usage data that I find most fascinating, including some of the periodic tracking studies come from out-of-home traffic measurement firm Geopath showing the average days and miles traveled by Americans has begun trending back to pre-pandemic levels.
And this morning, I was scrolling through some periodic benchmarks published as part of BMO Capital Markets' "Convergence Catch-Up" reports showing the impact on the audience levels and usage of the major ride-sharing services. Yes, Uber and Lyft are media, but normally we don't think of them that way.
Not surprisingly, both the base of unique users and their gross time spent on the ride-sharing apps are down markedly in May, providing another indirect indicator about America's mobility -- and media usage -- during a pandemic.
In this case, I imagine the ride-sharing services are down even as America opens up again, because most users -- even some anti-maskers -- can't imagine being stuck in close proximity with strangers inside a car. Both Uber and Lyft have responded with campaigns promoting the fact that they won't accept passengers who are not donning masks, and more recently they've announced plans to install plexiglass partitions in drivers' cars.
But I'm going to venture that the audience and time spent levels of the ride-sharing services are an important lagging media indicator for things returning to "normal." Keep an eye on it.
Perhaps just as useful will be metrics like these broken out by locale. That could provide clues on where life is returning to status quo ante.
There are also a large number of people who don't want to be in a bus with strangers. Ride share has lost market in a lot of areas - bar drinking, college students, airport and railway pick up - but gained in others (Public transportation avoidance, essential worker commutes). Both services have also eliminated shares rides.