January 14. “UK lockdowns fuel record year for home entertainment spending” runs a headline.*
A total of £9bn was spent during 2020 on digital home entertainment services in the UK. The biggest winners were video channels such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ whose sales ‘surged by 38% year on year.’
That these companies and their share price have had a good pandemic comes as no surprise. 2020 constituted the perfect conditions for their market. For three quarters of the year their main rival, the cinema, was either subject to distancing regulations or closed altogether. Other entertainments outside the home were similarly constrained.
In such circumstances it must be questioned whether ‘surged’ is too strong a verb. When the UK Covid death rate grows from 2 on 7 September 2020 to 1564 yesterday, that’s a surge. The performance of the home entertainment industry looks by contrast to have been comparatively modest.
The pandemic struck a market that was already growing rapidly. During 2019 the number of UK subscribers to Netflix grew by 13% to 11,470 million. That the rate of acquisition of new customers was three time higher the following year is the least that might be expected given the temporary destruction of its main area of competition.
There are perhaps two explanations for this limited expansion.
The first is that like so much of domestic consumer spending, the main patterns of behaviour were in place before the pandemic struck. The media analysist Omdia concludes that the performance of Netflix had “exaggerated already existing and underlying trends”,** which is probably true across the piece. My household had already acquired an internet-connected television and decided what it wanted to subscribe to. The only addition during the year were the art-house channels of Mubi and Curzon cinema, which we only occasionally watch (though we have discovered the strange and wonderful films of Roy Anderson). As with so many digital services, the graph of growth must flatten as penetration of the market nears saturation.
The second is that we all responded to successive lockdowns with greater effort and ingenuity than might be expected. We did not just slump in front of the box with a drink in our hand. We took walks, we worked in the garden while the light lasted, and we addressed projects around the house. Amongst the recently published financial reports is one from Kingfisher, the leading DIY supplier through brands such as B&Q and Screwfix. The newspaper headline in this case is “Lockdown DIY Craze.”*** Over the two months between 1 November to 9 January, sales were 16.9% up over the same period the previous year. Again the report is subject to journalistic over-excitement. An increase of a sixth is no “craze”, but it does indicate a desire finally to undertake long-standing home improvements [see my post “Two Panels”, 26 November].
We also have some information about what we chose to watch on our television sets during 2020. The most popular video, boxed or downloaded, was Frozen II, with sales of 973,000. This suggests a market driven by children, or by parents driven to distraction finding them something to do. I have yet to encounter this film, so have no explanation for its success. Instead I ask my oldest granddaughter, now eight years old, to compare the sequel to the original. She writes:
“yes I have watched it and I do think that it is a little bit better than the first one because it has quite a lot more to it and so it is a bit more exciting. There is also a little bit of a mystery in it because they have to find out what happened to their parents and how they met. There are also lots of different elements to the story, more people and more adventures and more mysteries!”
Better get a copy!