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Coronavirus drives massive, but unequal, spike in traffic

Nervous readers turned to public broadcasters in time of crisis

Traffic has spiked for media around the world as self-quarantined audiences have tuned in to follow the crisis – and fight off boredom. But that increase hasn’t been the same across all countries, or all types of media. 

The Fix looked into SimilarWeb data released this week, comparing February and March results to understand the shift that took place. We looked at four types of media – mainstream center-right and center-left, publicly-funded, and tabloid publications – across 10 different European countries. 

First, a small disclaimer. SimilarWeb data is imperfect, as is the categorization of media outlets. Western Europe’s Latin countries don’t really have tabloids, while some CEE countries have fluid political spectrums and lack classical center-left publications like The Guardian or El Pais

We’ve had to use our best judgement, but the findings should be seen more as indicative of trends, rather than a precise description of broad and complex media landscapes. We are working on refining the model, and adding new cases, but this takes time and resources.

Now the interesting part – the results. 

Source: The Fix research

Firstly, the hardest hit countries (and those that went into lockdown earliest), clearly saw a bigger spike in traffic. At first glance Ukraine might seem a bit of an outlier – it still has “just” over 2,200 cases and about 70 deaths. But it was among the first to go into lockdown and a healthy dose of political topics kept coronavirus-related materials company. 

Some of the North European states that initially shrugged off the crisis or introduced softer restrictions, like the UK or Germany, also saw the “corona-bump” lag – suggesting a sizable psychological impact of public measures on people’s behavior.

Even more interesting is the split between types of media. Publicly funded/ public broadcaster sites saw by far the biggest boost (albeit with some notable exceptions, like Poland’s TVP whose parroting of government talking points has discredited it among a large part of the population). 

Source: The Fix research

A small but significant difference between right-leaning and left-leaning media is also worth noting. The latter tend to be bigger in most countries, and hence may have been a first choice for new audiences looking for health updates (though additional investigation is needed). 

Perhaps the clearest trend has been the relative weakness of tabloids, which is probably a good thing, given their tendency to hyperbole and publishing unverified claims.

Over the coming weeks we plan to continue digging into the data, so please leave us comments and ideas below or send at info.thefix@gmail.com 


Here are the media we selected (note some countries have gaps due to lack of a clear player for a given position). We tried to balance picking the biggest media (by sessions) for each category, but in some cases preferred to take slightly smaller, but more recognizable options – please send us your feedback. 

Public broadcaster: bbc.co.uk; ceskatelevize.cz; francetvinfo.fr; rai.it; rtve.es; suspilne.media; tv2.dk; tvp.pl; tvr.ro; zdf.de

Center-left: elpais.es; lemonde.fr; politiken.dk; pravda.com.ua; repubblica.it; sueddeutsche.de; theguardian.com; wyborcz.pl; antena3.ro

Center-right: adevarul.ro; berlingske.dk; corriere.it; elmundo.es; faz.net; idnes.cz; lefigaro.fr; liga.net; rp.pl; telegraph.co.uk

Tabloid: bild.de; blesk.cz; dailymail.co.uk; ekstrabladet.dk; fakt.pl; leparisien.fr; liberatatea.ro; znaj.ua (note: Italy and Spain don’t have clear large players; France’s was a judgement call)

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