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Music Streaming and Sales Rebound — Will Concerts Follow Suit? Five Key Insights From New Nielsen Music/MRC Data COVID-19 Report

As some stay-at-home orders have eased across the United States, consumers are now spending more time outdoors and less time with activities like social media, TV and video games, according to the fifth installment of Nielsen Music/MRC Data’s survey series COVID-19: Tracking the Impact on the Entertainment Landscape. They’re also increasingly interested in returning to live events in the near future — and music sales have picked up significantly as stores reopen. Audio and video streaming also have rebounded following a significant dip at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, which took priority in the national conversation and led millions of Americans to take to the streets.

Below are five key takeaways from the results of the new report, based on data collected June 10-14 from a representative sample of 1,050 U.S. consumers ages 13 and up.

1. After an early-June lull, streaming has risen to normal levels again — and country music remains king.

Though overall streaming dipped in early June, coinciding with nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, both audio and video have now returned to normal. Country in particular has continued to trend upward, posting a remarkable 13% gain in weekly audio streams since the start of the pandemic. In fact, it’s the only genre that has risen over that time frame; by comparison, R&B/hip-hop is down 5.8%, while dance/electronic is down 5.9%. Still, catalog music — i.e., music older than 18 months — seems to be picking up some of the slack, keeping overall streaming figures afloat.

2. New video streaming subscriptions fell as Americans returned to normal life.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, new subscriptions to video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu fell — likely a result of increasing outdoor activities and the reopening of businesses. That said, video remains the most popular choice in the subscription streaming space. Among those who reported adding a new service, 72% subscribed to a video streaming platform versus 45% subscribing to a music streaming platform.

3. People are increasingly willing to attend live events, though crowd sizes remain a concern.

As consumers ease back into regular activities and become more accustomed to wearing masks (among other measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus), they also seem more willing to embrace a return to live events with such enhanced safety measures as mandatory masks and temperature checks in place. A full 26% of respondents said they were likely to attend a live event one month or less after the pandemic — a 5% rise from the last survey. Within that group, teens represented the biggest increase: 31% said they were likely to attend a concert, marking a 7% increase from the previous report. Still, when shows resume, people will probably favor smaller venues over arenas. Among respondents who said they were likely to attend an event one month or less after the pandemic, a 63% majority said they would be willing to attend one with an audience of just 250 people or less.

4. Live streams are still a popular choice.

Interest in live streams has remained on a steady track since the outbreak of the pandemic. In the latest survey, 22% of respondents reported they had watched a virtual concert or livestream performance over the last two weeks, while 37% stated that they were likely to tune into one in the next two weeks. Now, as brands scramble to capitalize on live streaming’s popularity, the survey suggests consumers remain mostly split on the use of ads, though they are increasingly supportive of sponsored virtual shows. They are also keen on charitable initiatives, at least when it comes to supporting artists whose incomes have been decimated by the loss of touring revenue. According to survey results, 59% of respondents said they would view a brand more favorably if they found a way to support artists in the live streaming space — an increase of 4% from the last report.

5. Retail is on the rebound.

Not only do music stores around the United States continue to reopen their doors, customers seem eager to return. Both independent and chain music retail outlets have seen a consistent increase in physical album sales over the course of the pandemic, with weekly numbers for total physical sales from all forms of retailers rising to 980,200, up almost 32% from 742,900 at the beginning of the crisis.

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