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How working from home shapes our screen time

March 2024

Working from home brings freedom and flexibility, so how does this impact the media we're consuming? And how can brands capitalise on these trends?

Since he started working from home permanently, Melbourne-based magazine publisher Justin Ng has shifted away from TV, preferring flexible and mobile platforms.


"TikTok and YouTube videos have become my quick entertainment fix. They fit perfectly into the brief pauses throughout my day," he says.


"And instead of staying in to watch TV after work, I step out for walks with podcasts."


Monique Jeremiah, who runs a model agency from her Gold Coast home, listens to educational YouTube videos for up to six hours every day.


"I do this while I do my makeup and hair, while driving around and when I'm walking in the afternoons."


Because she's at home, she's also watching more TV.


"I watch brekky shows for an hour and the nightly news at 6pm."


According to Roy Morgan Research (RMR), 26.5% of us were doing some work from home between October 2022 and September 2023. While Statistica research from March 2023 shows Australian professionals are working at home for around three days each week, though this varies according to industry.


But how has this shift affected our media consumption?


Reading and scrolling during the day's 'disruptions'


Our time spent online and on social media was already growing before the pandemic confined us to our homes, which simply accelerated its adoption.


But RMR shows we don't necessarily use social media more when we work from home, with 84% of workers who spend some time at home using it compared to 85% of those in traditional work settings.


The greatest difference lies in the diversity of media use. Home workers are – very slightly – more likely to read digital magazines (40% compared to 36% of non-home workers), digital newspapers (55% compared to 48%) and mail such as email newsletters (49.5% compared to 47%), perhaps because the lack of commute affords them a little more time and freedom.


They're also more likely to consume traditional reading material, such as catalogues and brochures (46% compared to 44%) and newspapers (34% compared to 33%). Plus they're also consuming more outdoor media (62% compared to 58%).


The Media Precinct's founder Glenda Wynyard says while there's only "a slight difference" between those working from home and those not when it comes to overall consumption trends, the biggest shifts have come in the "obvious disruptions through the day" as a result of new routines.


"Those working from home aren't commuting so they may not see the ad in the train station but they may still drop the kids off to school and therefore see transit and street furniture along the way.


"This doesn't mean that they don't see outdoor advertising, they just view it differently."


Television remains king


There's little difference between the TV habits of those working at home and not, though a slightly higher percentage of home workers do reach for the remote.


RMR shows those who working from home consume more broadcaster video on demand (BVOD) (37% compared to 35% of non-home workers), subscription video on demand (SVOD) (79% compared to 78%), FTA television (78% compared to 77%) and pay TV (19% compared to 17%).


Regardless of whether we work from home or not, we're watching an average of 14 hours of TV per week (down from 15 in 2019).


Bond University's Australia Plays 2023 research report, which looks at the media use of Australian households, shows TV use is still prominent.


In fact, when participants ranked their media preferences in order, TV came out on top, followed closely (in order) by social media; music streaming/downloads/media; movies (home and theatre); games; books; radio; and newspapers and magazines (print and online).


"Television remains our default medium. It’s like wallpaper and we have it on both as background social presence and to watch specific programs," says Bond University media expert Professor Jeffrey Brand.


Wynyard agrees that television viewing is not down, rather our traditional habits have changed, regardless of where we work.


"Between 2019 and 2023, the use of SVOD and BVOD increased for both those who work from home and those who don't. But the television screen in the living room is still the device of choice for streaming any kind of programming content, be it served via an app, YouTube, Apple TV or a network station.


"I would argue that television consumption overall is at an all-time high. It's just that there are so many more different options now than there were five years ago."


The popularity of online gaming has also surged since the pandemic, with 81 per cent of households now playing them, says Brand.


"Social interaction is a major motivation for using media as we have been working from home; 75 per cent of Australians who use video games play with others."


Radio still popular, with podcasts and streaming gaining ground


RMR shows there is no difference between home workers and non-home workers when it comes to radio habits – with 65% of each category tuning in. In fact, both listen to 15 hours of commercial radio each week, which is roughly the same as pre-Covid.


Live radio actually remains the leading audio format, and even remains popular among younger audiences.


"Brands may underestimate the value of radio in achieving reach. While radio audiences are not necessarily growing, unlike TV, they have recovered from the pandemic and have remained far more stable," says a 2023 WARC report.


But podcasts, digital radio and streaming are gaining ground.


The Infinite Dial 2023 Australia from Edison Research reveals a steep rise in podcast consumption, with 43 per cent of Australians aged 12+ having listened to a podcast in the past month, 33 per cent in the past week.


Spotify reached 515 million monthly active users globally in Q1 2023 and YouTube now boasts $2.1 billion users worldwide, while the platform’s short-form vertical video feature YouTube Shorts, launched globally in June 2021, surpassed 50 billion daily views in February 2023, according to Statistica.


Wynyard says radio remains an important medium.


"It might be that someone listens to commercial radio during breakfast and then picks up Spotify while they're commuting to work. They may have DAB+ playing in the background at work. It doesn't mean that they aren't listening to audio. They're just consuming differently."


While we've seen huge growth in the use of apps like Spotify, this probably has little to do with Covid or working from home, she adds.


"Media is just evolving, as it has always done so."


What does this mean for brands?


We will continue to work from home and rely increasingly on mobile and flexible media plus audio and visual content that provide us with a break from reading on our screens.


Digital marketing expert and website designer Peter Ngo says we're shifting from reading content to listening and watching.


"Ever since the pandemic, I see a big shift from reading social media like Twitter/X or Facebook to more visual and sound-oriented content like podcasts, TikTok, YouTube and YouTube Shorts.


"I think we're just at the beginning of the shift. Over time, we'll probably consume even more video-based content and read even less."


This is certainly the case for architect Emma Holmes in Windsor, Victoria.


"I spend way less time looking at a screen and more time listening. My preferred medium is podcasts, which I listen to on my morning walk or while doing tasks around the home like laundry and cleaning.


"While having breakfast I'll sometimes watch a YouTube vlog and throughout the day I keep a lofi playlist running."


Ngo agrees new ways to reach consumers are opening up.


"There are definitely more opportunities. Younger Australians are trusting smaller influencers, so brands should start building relationships with influencers instead of traditional media outlets.


"Short-form video especially is thriving, so brands need to jump on this ship."


With our new routines and flexibility, out of home (OOH) media is also coming to the fore.


Geofencing, which enables brands to target consumers in a certain location, or platforms that deliver messages at certain moments depending on what people are spending money on, watching or listening to, opens exciting new opportunities.


"Spotify can combine device data and what users are listening to infer the 'mood', 'mindset' and 'activities' of its audiences, enabling more contextually relevant and targeted messaging," says the WARC report.


But traditional media not going anywhere


Nevertheless, Wynyard warns brands to ignore traditional media at their peril.


"The news on traditional broadcast television networks Nine, Seven, ABC or SBS is still the number one position for marketers to advertise their brands. No other medium can offer as many eyeballs at the same time.


"Furthermore, the digital branded mastheads of traditional media are still some of the strongest outside of social media platforms. This is because there is a familiarity with these brands and they are trusted. There is not the 'shift away' that some in our industry would have you believe."


Melbourne-based Ross Floate works remotely for a digital agency yet is one to have reverted to more traditional media.


"I was a voracious podcast listener when I had an hour's commute each way but now I've almost completely stopped listening to them.


"But I have bought myself a printed newspaper subscription and I have the time now to read the paper.


"It's also a break from doing just about everything on screens."


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