The digital experiences South Africans embraced during the first year of the pandemic

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It looks like this decade will be defined by life pre and post the COVID-19 pandemic and, while South Africa still struggles to cope with the spread of the virus within our own borders, the impact on our way of life can already be seen. The uptake in digital experiences over in-person ones serves as a prime example, as videoconferencing, remote working and streaming have quickly become the go-to for our day to day.

Taking a closer look at the digital experiences and services that South Africans embraced during the first year of the pandemic is BrandMapp, which surveyed a sizeable sample of 30 000 people.

It is important to note that the sample in question here is from households with a monthly income in excess of R10 000. It therefore does not represent a true cross-section of the country at 30 percent of the population but, as BrandMapp points out, this segment of society does represent 80 percent of taxpayers.

As such, it is worthwhile keeping these numbers and insights in perspective, remaining aware that connectivity and income play significant factors in terms of what the survey bore out.

Now that we’ve prefaced things, what does the BrandMapp survey actually say about digital experiences in SA?

More fibre in our diets

The first is that fibre saw a massive uptake in the first year, which was mainly necessitated by the hard lockdown in the first half of the year, not to mention the growing need for better connectivity for those working, learning and staying entertained from home.

“What we see in the latest BrandMapp survey is that 2020 was a game-changing year for fibre in South Africa.  All internet providers had ‘essential services’ credentials and work continued unabated on the roll-out of fibre networks across the country’s suburbs. The uptake of fibre in top and mid-income households was accordingly phenomenal,” explains BrandMapp director of storytelling, Brandon de Kock.

“It’s important because from both the cost-efficiency and access to uncapped data aspects, fibre is poised to accelerate a digitally driven South Africa like no other internet-access technology. With the whole family trapped at home and needing multiple, fast, affordable internet connections for work, school and social, there’s little wonder that, for many, connecting into the country’s fibre network was a no-brainer,” he adds.

Streaming was the big winner in the fibre department, with the two seemingly interdependent as the country yearned for access to entertainment. Of the myriad platforms, Netflix proved the most popular, but seeing as how it had a march on services like Amazon Prime and Showmax, not to mention Disney+ and HBO Max not being available in SA, it is easy to see why people gravitated towards it.

“Netflix grew globally by around 20% thanks to lockdown, but here we saw usership leap from 41% to 61% which is a pretty radical shift. If you look at the Spotify usage, we see 1 in 5 mid to top-income South Africans now streaming their favourite music on the platform. This is the kind of penetration that the country’s traditional content providers need to take note of so that they can diversify and keep connected to their audiences,” adds de Kock.

Surge in sights and sounds

The other two digital experiences that the survey highlights are podcasts and videoconferencing. Regarding the latter it was Zoom that seemingly came out of nowhere and dominated. The likes of Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have clawed back some ground on Zoom, but the videoconferencing platform pretty much ate everyone’s lunch, especially Skype’s.

“COVID gave most of us a crash-course in conferencing tools and for some it’s been painful, but it’s also been a huge relief. Imperfect as it was, we got the job done thanks to new kids on the block like Zoom and Teams, and old friends like Skype. BrandMapp never measured Zoom and Teams before, but a 33% and 26% uptake respectively over 2020 is massive,” he points out.

Another big reason why videoconferencing proved so popular in 2020, are the savings that businesses could make in hosting virtual meetings and events instead of in-person ones. Granted, few in-person events could happen during last year, but it looks like hybrid virtual/in-person events will likely be a fixture for the next few years at least as a result of changes brought on by the pandemic.

As for podcasts, if it felt like every other person was starting a podcast, it’s because they were. Whether everyone should be starting one is a conversation for another time, but the statistics from the survey show that there is a clear appetite for this type of content, which is likely why Spotify is making a big push in this digital experience segment and Facebook is dabbling in it too.

“BrandMapp shows that 62% of mid to top-income SA adults are actually listening to podcasts, and 24% of them are already hooked on the medium. We’ve seen how the trend towards ‘on demand’ has affected all forms of traditional media in recent years and this is a clear shift in listening habits that can’t be ignored.  If you’re a brand owner or a media boss, you have to be thinking about how to get into the conversation,” advises de Kock.

With digital experiences and services expected to continue in popularity and uptake over the coming years, one thing is clear – we need to have a conversation about connectivity and pricing if everyone is to enjoy what is being made available online.

[Image – Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Editor of Hypertext. Covers smartphones, IoT, 5G, cloud computing and a few things in between. Also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games when not taking the hatchet to stories.

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