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As lockdowns lift, media firms brace for an “attention recession” – The Economist



“THE NUMBER of people who are in a new size is pretty staggering,” Chip Bergh, the head of Levi Strauss, admitted in June. After more than a year of on-and-off lockdowns, the denim-maker told the Associated Press that a quarter of customers no longer fit in their jeans.

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The long spell on the sofa may have been bad for the world’s waistlines, but it has been a golden era for the industries that provide in-home distractions. As entertainment options outside the home were shut down, and commuting gave way to home-working, people had time on their hands. Consumption of everything from books and podcasts to music and video games shot up (see chart).

Now, as vaccines begin to do their job, governments in many rich countries are starting to lift stay-at-home orders, and people are venturing back out. Offices are reopening, restaurants are taking orders and live audiences are back, everywhere from Cannes to Wimbledon. Our “normalcy index” shows that life in many of the 50 countries included is creeping back to business as usual.

As the amount of spare time at home starts to shrink, the attention boom of 2020 is giving way to what Mark Mulligan of MIDiA Research, a firm of analysts, dubs an “attention recession”. The squeeze on free time means that media companies are now all asking the same question, says Brendan Brady of Antenna, a company that measures video-streaming subscriptions: “Is this now a period of stability? Or are we going to fall off a cliff?”

Twiddling their thumbs

The average full-time worker gained about 15% more spare time during the pandemic, according to a survey by MIDiA of consumers in America, Australia, Britain and Canada. Not only did they have more time, but those who kept their jobs had more money, too. Americans’ spending on recreation such as sports, theme parks and holidays, fell by 30% in 2020.

Instead, people turned to their screens. In Britain, the time people spent online last year (including television streaming services) rose by more than half an hour a day, to nearly five hours, according to Ofcom, a communications regulator. Being connected became essential. At the start of the pandemic one in ten British homes lacked internet access, but since then about half of those have gone online. Seeking new distractions, smartphone users around the world installed 143bn new apps, a quarter more than in 2019 (and more than double the previous year’s rate of growth), according to Craig Chapple of Sensor Tower, which monitors app stores.

The biggest share of the extra screen-time went to television: video-viewing rose by about 80 minutes a week in rich countries, finds MIDiA. Video-gaming saw the biggest proportional jump, as people devoted an extra hour per week, or 30% more time, to games. Listening to music edged up by 5%, while podcasts and audiobooks rose by nearly a quarter.

Books of the printed variety also got a boost. In Britain, four out of ten people reported that they were reading more than they used to, according to Nielsen, a data firm. The jump was most pronounced among young people, particularly women, who spent 50% more time reading than they did before the pandemic. Some of this was escapism, but much of the reading had a practical motive: cooking and gardening books were the top choices in non-fiction, while in children’s books, home-learning saw the biggest increase.

As spare time dries up, the question is which of these newly acquired habits will stick and which will be dropped. In the ultra-competitive video-streaming market, there are early signs that audiences may be cutting back. The average number of streaming services used by viewers in America is falling for the first time, according to Omdia, a research firm. In April the typical viewer used 7.06 services (including free ones), down from 7.23 in November. Worldwide, 5m people signed up to Netflix, the market leader, in the first quarter of the year, down from 15m in the same period in 2020. Disney+, a leading rival, also undershot analysts’ sign-up forecasts.

Yet the main losers in the attention recession, when it comes to viewing, will be old-school formats. Cable-viewing in America, long in decline, rose slightly during the depths of 2020’s lockdown. But reopening has set it sliding faster than ever: by 23% year on year in the second quarter of 2021, according to MoffettNathanson, a firm of analysts. Viewership of American broadcast television dropped by the same amount. And although most cinemas have reopened, the year-long disruption was enough to persuade film studios to change the way they do business. Some now release their new blockbusters on their streaming services on the same date that they make their cinema debut. The long “theatrical window”—the three months when a new film could only be seen on big screens—has been permanently cut short (see Business section).

As well as hastening the switch from old to new formats, covid-19 has shown how different sorts of media increasingly compete with each other for consumers’ attention. Until a decade ago, people accessed different media using different hardware: TV sets for video, computers for gaming, stereos for music. Today all varieties are delivered by smartphone.

People don’t have a specific slot in their schedule for video, says Emmett Shear, chief executive of Twitch, a live-streaming company. Instead, “People think about, ‘Where am I going to get entertainment?’… and they go to the service that is providing the most of that.” As lockdowns lift, he adds, Twitch’s main competitors will probably be basketball, frisbee and the park.

The competition between different types of media is clearest in audio. During the downtime of 2020 people listened to more of everything, from music to podcasts and audiobooks. But music’s share of overall listening time went down. At the start of the pandemic, podcasts and audiobooks accounted for a fifth of all listening. By the end of last year their share had risen to a quarter, says MIDiA. As listening time returns to pre-pandemic levels, some evidence suggests that people are sticking with these new choices, and cutting back on music to make way for them. Spotify said in April that podcasts had nibbled away at music to reach an all-time high in their share of customers’ total listening.

The rebalancing from music to podcasts suits streaming companies. Whereas they license most of their music from record companies, which own the rights to songs, they are increasingly commissioning podcasts of their own. This gives them both a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors—“Call Her Daddy” and “The Joe Rogan Experience” are exclusive to Spotify, for instance—and to increase their profit margins. Mr Mulligan notes that Amazon has an opportunity to differentiate its own audio offering by combining Amazon Music, its music- and podcast-streaming service, with Audible, its audiobook company.

No obstacles for Roblox

The single biggest new media habit to be formed during the pandemic appears to be gaming. The extra hour per week that people spent gaming last year represented the largest percentage increase of any media category. And unlike other lockdown hobbies, it is showing no sign of falling away as life gets back to normal. It has become “a sticky habit”, says Craig Chapple of Sensor Tower. He finds that last year people installed 56.2bn gaming apps, a third more than in 2019 (and three times the rate of increase the previous year). The easing of lockdowns is not denting the habit: the first quarter of 2021 saw more installations than any quarter of 2020. Roblox, a sprawling platform on which people make and share their own basic games, reported that in the first quarter of this year players spent nearly 10bn hours on the platform, nearly twice as much time as they spent in the same period in 2020.

Gaming’s popularity rests most heavily on Generation Z—roughly, under-25s—who account for most of Roblox’s users. A poll in February by Deloitte, a consultancy, found that whereas all other generations of Americans named television and films as their favourite form of home entertainment, Generation Z ranked them last, after video games, music, web browsing and social media. In time, “the dominant position that video entertainment has held could be challenged,” Deloitte argues.

The changing shape of post-lockdown life can also be seen through social media. People spent an extra 40 minutes a week on social networks last year, as well as an extra half-hour consuming news, sometimes via social-media platforms. In April this year Facebook said that the increased levels of engagement it had seen in 2020 were subsiding as lockdowns eased.

Snapchat, on the other hand, reported the opposite. Evan Spiegel, chief executive of Snap, the app’s developer, told investors that as lockdowns lifted in America in late February, the amount of content posted on it increased. Since the end of March, he said, there had been a rise in the rate of new friendships, as people began to socialise more in real life. “There doesn’t seem to be much concern that social-media usage will meaningfully erode as economies open up,” notes Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson in an analyst’s note. “With people able to meet more in person, it may indeed increase.”

Perhaps the most obvious winner among social networks will be dating apps. Match Group, which owns several such outfits including Tinder, reported that new sign-ups fell last year in April, as covid-19 arrived, and again in December, amid the virus’s second wave. But now people seem to be making up for lost time. So far this year sign-ups are running about 10% higher than they were before the pandemic. In February nearly 20% more messages were sent than a year earlier. As people’s attention turns from the screen back to real life, Match has told investors to look forward to a “summer of love”.

Dig deeper

All our stories relating to the pandemic and the vaccines can be found on our coronavirus hub. You can also listen to The Jab, our podcast on the race between injections and infections, and find trackers showing the global roll-out of vaccines, excess deaths by country and the virus’s spread across Europe and America.

A version of this article was published online on June 27th 2021

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “The attention recession”

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Thai media restrictions raise freedom of expression concerns – CTV News



Thailand implemented new regulations on Friday that appeared to broaden the government’s ability to restrict media reports and social media posts about the coronavirus pandemic, raising immediate concerns that authorities will seek to stifle criticism.

While Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has long sought to crack down on what he calls fake news and has a government department devoted to it, the new regulations, announced late Thursday, include the ability to prosecute people for distributing “news that may cause public fear.”

It also gives Thai regulators the ability to force internet service providers to turn over the IP address of the person or entity distributing such news, and to “suspend the internet service to that IP address immediately.”

In a joint statement sent by six Thai journalist associations to Prayuth and published by multiple Thai media outlets, the groups urged him to cancel the restrictions, saying they were overly broad and an attack on freedom of expression.

“The clause `news that may cause public fear’ allows authorities to proceed with legal action against the media and the public without clear criteria,” they wrote, threatening to take legal action if necessary.

“Even if the public or media share factual information, state agencies may use this clause as grounds to file a complaint or threaten them.”

The new measures come as Thailand is struggling to cope with a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic fueled by the Delta variant, with rising numbers of cases and deaths. On Friday another 17,345 cases and 117 deaths were reported.

In announcing the restrictions, the prime minister said they were necessary to combat the spread of inaccurate rumors that could impede government efforts to vaccinate the population and implement measures to slow the pandemic.

“We have daily briefings to give the right information to the public,” Prayuth said. “But some try to distort the information and cause confusion.”

The announcement immediately raised fears that the measures could be used by authorities to stifle legitimate criticism and could also have a chilling effect by making it less likely that people would publicly question the government’s actions.

“Even if Thai people share legitimate information, even second hand, the government could still determine that the information, while factual, could cause a panic,” Mark Cogan, a professor at Japan’s Kansai Gaidai University, wrote Friday in an opinion piece in the Thai Enquirer online newspaper. “The government has almost accomplished what it has long set out to achieve. It’s a giant step closer to being sole arbiter of what is true and what is fake.”

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri downplayed the concerns, saying that the order would not be “enforced in such a way to limit the media or people’s freedom of speech.”

“The government is rather trying to manage fake news or any criticism based on false information to prevent misunderstanding and hatred in the public,” he said.

  Asked whether factual reports that have the potential to create fear could be affected, he said that “if the news is reported appropriately, there should not be a problem.”

In a discussion on Facebook, prominent Thai journalist Suthichai Yoon suggested Prayuth was reacting to growing dissatisfaction with his government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and was looking for a scapegoat.

“The government is stumbling, and feels that the reports presenting the facts to the public from the media, the mainstream media, are questioning whether the government can handle the COVID crisis, and whether the government should be changed or the prime minister replaced,” he said.

“The media is the easy scapegoat.”

Asked about the new measures at a news conference Friday, the top U.S. diplomat in Thailand, U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Michael Heath, did not comment specifically, but emphasized that “the United States always supports freedom of expression.”

“That expression sometimes will include criticism of the government,” he said. “As you’ve seen in my own country, we tolerate a wide range of criticism of our government — some of it’s justified and some of it’s not — but we will always support the right for people to express their opinions.”

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Media outlets appeal decision to deny info on stay of Port Moody mayor's sex assault charge –



Three media outlets are challenging a decision by the B.C. Supreme Court’s top judge to deny the public details about so-called alternative measures that resulted in the dismissal of a sexual assault charge against the mayor of Port Moody, B.C.

CBC, CTV and Global filed an application in B.C.’s Court of Appeal Thursday seeking to overturn a decision by Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson rejecting a bid for specifics about the measures Robert Vagramov was required to complete in order for the Crown to agree to bring criminal proceedings against him to a halt.

In a 30-page document filed with the province’s top court, media lawyer Daniel Burnett argues that Hinkson failed to consider the open court principle, central to the Canadian justice system, which requires anyone seeking a ban on publication to prove it’s necessary to prevent harm.

Vagramov was charged with sexual assault in 2019 in relation to an incident his lawyer later characterized as an “awkward date.”

Some transparency ‘required’

The charge was stayed months later through a process designed to give offenders with no history of violence or sexual offences the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions while avoiding a criminal record and civil liability.

Vagramov leaves a news conference after being charged with sexual assault, at City Hall in Port Moody, B.C., on March 28, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

At the time the charge was stayed, the Crown told the court only that the mayor had “successfully completed” an alternative measures program. The specifics were not disclosed.

CBC, CTV and Global filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court asking Hinkson to OK the release by the Crown and B.C. Corrections of documents that confirmed Vagramov’s eligibility for alternative measures, the specifics of the measures he was asked to complete and confirmation of the fact that he completed them.

In his April ruling, the chief justice said the documents the media were seeking were never introduced in open court, and so the open court principle did not apply.

In the appeal, Burnett argues that while the records themselves may not have come before a judge, they’re “intertwined with the administration of justice.”

“A criminal charge before the court was stayed in court based upon a criteria set out in the Code. An officer of the court, Crown Counsel, entered the stay in court based upon the criteria,” the appeal application reads.

“Some transparency regarding the measures completed is required if the fairness of the alternative measures system is to be understood and considered. The public as well as those charged should not be expected to simply trust that the measures are appropriate, fair, or applied evenly.”

A ‘chilling’ effect

The case shines a light on a program designed to rid the court of minor cases, save money for taxpayers and ensure that Canadians who make a single, serious misstep don’t necessarily have to carry the burden of a life-altering criminal record.

In rejecting the media’s bid for disclosure, Hinkson reached back to a 1994 parliamentary discussion that saw the Bloc Québécois justice critic say that “a private, administrative route” was necessary to ensure that suspects who agreed to co-operate could be sure that they wouldn’t later find themselves publicly shamed.

Defence lawyer Ian Donaldson speaks to reporters Wednesday after the Crown stayed a charge against his client Vagramov. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Hinkson concluded that releasing Vagramov’s alternative measures details could lead to manipulation by accused people looking to game the system.

He also said the disclosure could have a “chilling” effect on accused people who agree to alternative measures in the belief that it will keep their names out of the headlines.

‘An error upon an error’

In the appeal, CBC, CTV and Global claim Hinkson came to those conclusions based on “pure speculation” without reviewing the documents themselves.

“It was an error upon an error,” Burnett writes.

The media claim they weren’t seeking detailed psychological reports, and that Vagramov himself has spoken publicly about sending an apology letter to the woman who accused him.

“It is equally likely that better knowledge of the program will increase the number of individuals who wish to participate in it,” Burnett writes.

“Appreciating that every case has different circumstances, there can be no valid justification for keeping secrecy over what kinds of alternative measures it takes to avoid a prosecution, and what Mr. Vagramov did to earn a stay.”

Vagramov was elected mayor in October 2018 when he was 28. 

He took a leave of absence after the charge was sworn but created a rift at city council when he returned to work in September 2019, ahead of the staying of the charge.

Vagramov later said was “deeply regretful” for the tension his criminal case brought upon council and the community.

The mayor’s lawyer did not return a request for comment Thursday.

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Athletes' Mental Health Puts Focus on Their Social Media Use – BNN



(Bloomberg) — The growing focus on mental health at the Olympic Games is bringing attention to the pitfalls and benefits of social media use by athletes, for whom platforms like Instagram and TikTok help them stay connected with fans amid the isolation of the pandemic while also leaving them vulnerable to abuse.

South Korean archer An San, who won three gold medals at the games, became the target of misogynist attacks online from people who criticized her short hairstyle as being “feminist.” Japanese mixed-doubles table tennis winner Jun Mizutani said in a now-deleted Twitter post after his victory over China that he was getting anonymous death threats online, without naming the origins of the messages.

“There are definitely a lot of mean people out there who just say stuff that don’t need to be said,” said U.S. gymnast Sunisa Lee after winning gold in the women’s individual all-around event on Thursday.

The rising interest in athletes’ mental wellbeing and the impact of social media prompted International Olympic Committee member Kirsty Coventry, herself a former swimmer for Zimbabwe, to reveal that she had quit social media in the past year.

“In the last couple of days we’ve heard of a few athletes who have gone off social media,” she told reporters Thursday. “As nice and supportive as some can be, the negative comments — even if they are the fewest comments — can be really hurtful to athletes.”

Many athletes use social media to feel empowered by sharing their voice, expanding their sphere of influence, fostering connections and building personal brands, said Fernando Frias, a sports psychologist at Oregon State University. But the significance of the Olympics, compounded with heightened national pride, also means more people are likely to direct negativity at athletes online.

The situation facing Japanese athletes is further complicated by the polarization in society over the decision to hold the Olympics during the pandemic. As a result, more people are taking their anger out online at athletes, said Yuji Ishizaka, a sports sociologist at Nara Women’s University.

Japanese gymnast Mai Murakami conceded that she had been affected by cyberbullying.

“I know there are people who were against holding the Olympics, and at the same time, I know there are people who are supportive,” she told reporters through tears after the all-around women’s event on Thursday. “And even though I don’t want to see those negative comments and as much as I try to ignore them, the information comes through and I pick it up before I know it. It was very hurtful and sad.”

At the same time, social media has been an important way for athletes to stay in touch with family and fans due to the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, and to draw attention to less popular sports or newer sports.

Rayssa Leal, the 13-year-old Brazilian skateboarder, added 4.5 million Instagram followers over two days after she won a silver medal, according to Facebook Inc.

U.S. rugby player Ilona Maher saw her followers on TikTok triple in number after she started videos from the Olympic Village with comical commentary on attractive athletes and cardboard beds.

“It’s also been a great tool to use for my own personal branding and getting my name out there. And hopefully also for my sport and getting rugby out there,” she said.

And quitting social media may not even be an option for some athletes, particularly those from poorer countries for whom building an online following has been instrumental to their success. For example, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who won the first gold medal ever for the Philippines, got enough money to go to Tokyo after posting an Instagram story in 2019 asking for financial support.

To help ameliorate some of the negative impact from social media, athletes can turn to psychologists who travel with their teams for help. Internet companies are also recognizing their role in minimizing harm experienced by athletes online. Facebook, for example, launched a private Instagram support account for athletes leading up to the games, according to Joyee Biswas, its head of sports partnerships in Asia-Pacific.

Frias, the sports psychologist, even suggested that social media literacy even be built into curricula in early childhood education and in sports training.

“I encourage athletes to engage mindfully and intentionally with social media while setting clear boundaries regarding communication with followers and time spent,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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