March 24, 2020: Instagram releases a new co-watching feature and tests two more features; the film industry braces for COVID-19; summer Olympics get postponed; the U.S. government and tech industry join forces; the purpose of social media shifts
Here’s what’s worth knowing this week:
Instagram Releases New Co-Watching Feature, Tests Two More
This week, Instagram released a new co-watching feature and is also reportedly testing adding hashtags and locations to Stories Highlights and disappearing messages in Instagram Direct.
What is the new feature?
Co-Watching: Users can now browse posts with friends over in-app video chat. The feature can be accessed by starting a video chat through the Instagram Direct messaging tab and it allows users to look at saved, liked and recommended posts together as a group.
STC POV: Evidently, this is part of a broader effort by Instagram and parent company Facebook to encourage social distancing by supporting its users during COVID-19. Brands have the opportunity to use this feature to review campaign concepts and ideas with influencers.
What about the features in testing?
Hashtags and Locations to Stories Highlights: Discovered by reverse engineering pro Jane Manchun Wong, Instagram is testing the capability to add up to four hashtags and a location to Instagram Stories highlights.
STC POV: Yet again, Instagram seems to be taking a page out of another social media platform’s playbook. This time, Instagram appears to be making a move to become more like Pinterest – since Stories Highlights are typically already curated around specific topics, hashtags and locations, much like Pinterest Boards.
If launched, one of the biggest benefits to enabling searchable elements like hashtags and location data in Story Highlights would be the increased visibility of such content, which would also increase its value. Currently, Stories Highlights are virtually non-discoverable, as they don’t appear in Instagram searches or in Explore listings.
Disappearing Messages: Spotted by Jane Manchun Wong (again) and confirmed by a Facebook spokesperson, Instagram is testing a messaging feature that clears the chat thread after a user leaves the chat window. While Instagram has previously launched “disappearing” photo and video messaging features, this is the first time it has extended to text-based messaging content (vs. images).
STC POV: As Facebook continues to combine the messaging functions of its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Apps, Instagram’s recent test comes as little surprise given that WhatsApp is also working on developing the same feature.
Unfortunately for Snapchat, anything it can do Instagram can do better. Case in point: Instagram’s version of Stories has reached 500 million daily users compared to just 218 million users on Snapchat as a whole. Where Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging has kept the platform in the game and somewhat relevant, it appears as though Instagram is now looking to rip that off as well. Could the introduction of ephemeral messaging on Instagram Direct be enough to convert Snap’s critical mass? TBD – time will tell.
Summer Olympics Postponed Until 2021
It was announced Tuesday morning that the Summer Olympic Games have officially been postponed.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said this morning he has reached an agreement with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to postpone the Olympics for a year, until no later than summer 2021. Although now taking place a year later, they will still be called 2020 Games, the IOC said. The committee also stated that the Olympic flame would remain lit in Tokyo as a beacon of hope and “a light at the end of the tunnel” for the world.
What about the ad revenue?
It will leave a massive hole in advertising revenue for 2020 for NBCUniversal, to the tune of $1.2 billion. Just a few weeks ago, the company said it had surpassed $1.25 billion in Tokyo Olympics ad sales—a new ad revenue record for the games—and had sold out 90 percent of its national ad inventory for the Summer Games, along with its Tokyo Paralympics ad inventory. The Games were the main tentpole of the company’s ad revenue and marketing strategies in 2020, with execs calling it “the media event of the year.” It was also a key part of the marketing push for Peacock, the company’s streaming service that is slated to launch July 15, 2020.
NBCUniversal and Discovery network, which has Olympic rights through 2024 in European Countries, have both stated they have insurance policies to cover them should the Games be canceled or postponed.
What are they saying?
“NBCUniversal is actively working with our advertising partners to navigate this postponement, and we’re exploring all options to best serve their brands and our consumers this year, and into 2021.” — NBCUniversal spokesperson
Marketers at official Olympic sponsor brands who had Olympic rights and plans to advertise during the Olympics are likely working hard to adjust their marketing and media plans, as well as the content and messaging of their advertising. While much of that TV ad revenue will not be spent in 2020, it is likely that a portion of marketing budgets will be redirected into digital marketing or influencer marketing budgets.
As a result, brands have an opportunity to lean into a #CreateForGood themed campaign, utilizing influencers to inform, inspire, donate, teach, craft and uplift. Brands also have the opportunity to activate influencers for more than just content creation (think: ratings, reviews and research). ICYMI – we covered this in our webinar, Social Influencing in a Time of Social Distancing, available on-demand here.
COVID-19’s Impact on Hollywood
With the global shutdown of virtually all movie theaters due to COVID-19, production studios have begun digitally releasing movies on streaming service platforms.
The “theatrical window” three month window is no more — at least for now. Production studios from the likes of NBCUniversal and Disney have announced plans to skip the theater releases and go straight to digital. Why does this matter? For years, major studios have been battling theater chains over shortening the window, as doing so would enable studios to tap into awareness from a theatrical release as well as the value of theatrical marketing dollars to drive downloads or rentals. Assuming this is the new norm (at least for the time being), we could begin to see a shift in the power dynamic between studios and theater chains. Inevitably, studios would have more bargaining power as a result of the altered consumer behavior (i.e., watching movies at home) and raise the bar significantly for going out to the movies.
But the show must go on.
Yes it does. And streaming service platforms are certainly reaping the majority of the benefits. Streaming service providers have experienced surges in viewership, new users and stock prices, even despite the fact that these platforms, too, have been forced to halt productions on current movies and TV shows.
Speaking of streaming service platforms…
It’s about to go down. No really, streaming quality is about to go down. Netflix and YouTube have announced plans to reduce streaming quality in Europe for at least the next month to prevent the internet collapsing under the strain of unprecedented usage during COVID-19.
It’s predicted that the global film industry faces a $5 billion loss due to COVID-19. With all production studios having stopped filming indefinitely, creators, actors, musicians have begun streaming live from their own houses, in-house studios, etc. In addition, we could begin to see influencers looking to expand their branded content portfolio during this time by seizing an opportunity to become part of a production entity’s digital release strategy. Think: instead of seeing David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad on the red carpet, maybe they’re hosting virtual movie premiere happy hours for the digital release of the next blockbuster. Regardless, brands have the opportunity to think of this content as new sponsorship opportunities.
Houseparty and Zoom Have Us Reuniting and It Feels So Good
In the era of COVID-19, social media has become about showing up instead of showing off.
Virtual Happy Hours, Family Reunions, and Hangouts Galore
During the most uncertain and unpredictable time in our lives, social media has provided an outlet for many who would otherwise find themselves isolated and disconnected from their coworkers, friends, and family. During this mass reprioritization, we have been finding ourselves talking to and checking in with people we haven’t seen in months or even years.
Houseparty Has Risen From the Pixelated Ashes
Making a comeback during this time is Houseparty, an app and “face to face social platform” helping people easily host video group chats where users can play games and hang out with friends. Last week, Houseparty was at the top of the charts resulting in a 328x higher download rate than in February. The app pretty much fell out of vogue in 2018 and hasn’t been updated since July 2019 (after being purchased by Fortnite maker Epic Games).
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Perhaps some of the most affected in this time of uncertainty has been the Class of 2020 and other students who are attempting to finish their semester by attending “Zoom University.” The app version of the platform is number two on the charts (just under Houseparty) and has made our commutes shorter than ever.
While social media platforms began as a way for people to connect and communicate with each other, they’ve largely warped into platforms for content creation and entertainment — a one-way street from those who have the followers, likes, and/or notoriety to command an audience. Now, we find ourselves circling back to social media’s original purpose by reaching out and connecting with others.
COVID-19 has been the great equalizer pulling giants like John Legend down to Earth through imperfect, authentic live-streams and meme creators up to the surface. More so now than ever before, it’s a time for escape, reconnection, and discovery. Influencers and brands, specifically, have the opportunity to strip their masks and truly connect and relate with their audiences. As well, brands have the opportunity to engage influencers to seek feedback and advice on pivoting social strategies in this new age of social distancing.
The U.S. Government Joins Forces with Tech Companies
Facebook, Google, and other tech companies are in talks with the US government to develop a way to track the spread of COVID-19 using their location data. Reportedly, the select companies will be aggregating the data anonymously. However, there are valid privacy concerns over user data being tracked for government purposes in the long run. What happens to this data after the pandemic is over?
So, how could this even help?
Well, the hope is that by being able to track the virus, health officials can see past and current hotspots to predict future ones. This would enable them to properly allocate medical resources to get ahead of the virus and the localized outbreak.
After the declaration of a national emergency, we’re seeing companies across many industries convert their tech, machinery, and resources into various tools to help ease and slow the impact of COVID-19. Even powerhouse beverage company Anheuser-Busch is converting its distilleries into hand sanitizer production facilities.
Influencers, who are essentially small businesses, could be finding themselves trying to figure out new ways to combat the virus in their local communities using their own resources. Whether that’s monetary or through their own workflows in running their companies, it’ll be interesting to see what influencer innovations come out of this crisis.