September 1, 2020

Where are they now? A look at shifting content engagement in a world turned upside down

The sudden changes to our world this year have caused a wide range of uncertainty and surfaced new questions about how to function amid the chaos. In the media world, cancelled tentpole events and media production delays have left marketers wondering how and where to engage with their audiences. Have content preferences changed as dramatically and as quickly as the world has?

At Diesel Labs, we noticed that social engagement across the media landscape has been volatile in recent months, which led us to wonder if these movements were disproportionately impacting certain content categories. Using our proprietary content analytics engine, which illuminates audience preferences and behaviors across content types, we took a look at engagers from 2019 to see what they’re engaging with in 2020. Overall, we found that users are still engaging with content they care about, but with less frequency than before. Compared to 2019, brand conversation remained relatively steady, while people and music-based engagement occurred at lower levels. TV and movie engagement, however, was much more erratic.

Diving deeper, we were particularly interested in a few key groups that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:

Sports engagers – users who engaged with sports content in 2019. With the fate of sports seasons up in the air for much of the year, what did these users engage with instead?

Streaming content engagers – users who engaged with streaming content in 2019. With the launch of new streaming services in 2020, did 2019 engagers relish all the new streaming content?

Cord cutters – users who in 2019 proclaimed they were going to give up cable. Did they end up pulling the plug?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be examining each of these segments on our blog, surfacing engagement insights and things that marketers should keep in mind for content-release strategies. Our first deep-dive takes a look at general trends with TV and brands.


There was a distinct dip in TV engagement in March as viewers’ attention moved away from entertainment TV and more toward news at the start of the pandemic. Engagement with broadcast and cable programming rebounded slightly in April and May before trailing off again at the end of the traditional linear season. Streaming networks, which consistently release fresh content, saw an uptick in engagement after the linear season ended. Streaming engagement pops around major moments, like the Stranger Things premiere in July 2019, giving it the advantage of generating engagements when there is less competing linear content. However, even with streaming moments like Tiger King and Hamilton, 2020 did not experience similarly sustained levels of engagement as last year.


When examining brand-based conversations, it’s clear that coronavirus concerns affected some categories, but the compounded effect of social justice movements impacted all industries. Throughout the pandemic, media / news and CPG remained consistently high as both news and household goods were top of mind with everyone staying home. Other industries, like airlines, saw dramatic drops due to the shutdown of business and recreational travel. Audiences’ interests in brands and brand categories appear to be heavily influenced by external factors.


From our initial analysis of these trends, the following themes emerged:

— Across the board, engagement is significantly impacted by cultural prioritization of important topics such as COVID-19 and social injustice activism.

— Certain brand industries have been predictably affected by the pandemic, but nearly all have been impacted by attention turning to the social issues that have emerged in recent months.

— Media engagement is heavily driven by flagship content (Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Tiger King, Hamilton), though this year’s content has not achieved similar levels of sustained engagement as last year. We may be observing the “social lifecycle” of content starting to shrink.