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April 24, 2020

By David Coletto

For over five weeks now, Canadians have been told to #StayHome and physically distance themselves from others because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So much of how they live, work, learn, and play has been upended, altered, and disrupted.

Earlier this week, my spouse and I were talking about how surreal this has all been and how different the experience would be had the pandemic happened ten years ago. We both agreed that these past six weeks would have been far more isolating and challenging because it would be harder to connect with family, more challenging to work remotely and almost impossible to get food, household goods, or anything really, delivered to our homes. Moreover, could our internet networks even handle today’s demand five years ago?

This week Abacus Data conducted a national public opinion survey commissioned by Shaw Communications to explore how Canadians are using the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is what we found:

DEMAND FOR CONNECTIVITY SOARS: 7 IN 10 CANADIANS REPORT USING THE INTERNET MORE NOW THAN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC WITH 41% REPORTING 3 HOURS OR MORE OF SCREEN TIME DAILY.

While Canadians are driving, going out, and physically seeing family and friends less than usual, most report using the internet more during the pandemic than before. 68% reporting using the internet more, including 27% (about 8.1 million), who say they are using it much more than usual.

Increased internet use crosses all demographic, regional, and socio-economic groups, including:
• 80% of those aged 18 to 29 and 59% of those aged 60 and older
• 71% of women and 64% of men
• 74% of university students and 80% of college students
• 81% of those working at home or attending school remotely

The increased internet use has meant that 41% of Canadians, including 55% of those aged 18 to 29 are spending 3 hours or more consuming content through or interacting with a screen.

At the same time, 84% of Canadians believe that other Canadians are using the internet more than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a broad recognition that the internet is being used more and playing a more central role in Canadians’ lives than it did before.

WHAT CANADIANS DID ONLINE THIS PAST WEEKEND?

This past weekend, millions of Canadians were using the internet to watch movies, connect with family and friends, pray, and stay in shape.

We asked how often, if at all, respondents used the internet to do several activities this past weekend.

57% or about 17.1 million said they watched a movie streamed online. 42% or 12.6 million connected with friends or family over a video chat. 5.1 million or 17% watched a religious ceremony over a live stream while 14% gathered together with family and had dinner over a video chat.

Millions of Canadians were also staying active using the internet. 16% reported doing an exercise or yoga class streamed online while 12% or 3.6 million did a workout on a smart bike trainer or treadmill.

CANADIANS ARE STAYING IN TOUCH, LEARNING, PLAYING, AND WORKING WITH THE INTERNET

The internet is being used by most Canadians to stay informed about the pandemic (76%), to check in with family and friends (77%), and to socialize with friends. 27% report using the internet to hold virtual parties with friends regularly or occasionally.

For those who can work and learn remotely, the internet enables them to stay connected and be productive. 59% of Canadians report using the internet to work from home, 49% are doing schoolwork or learning using virtual classes or courses.

Millions are also using the internet to watch or listen to videos or music. 78% reporting using the internet to watch videos regularly or occasionally while over half (60%) are listening to music over the internet at least sometimes.

Video chats are also helping us to stay connected with family, workmates, and clients. 38% of Canadians are using the internet to hold work-related video meetings regularly or occasionally, while 32% are holding family get-togethers by video chat.

90% SAY THEIR HOME INTERNET NETWORK HAS HANDLED THE INCREASED DEMAND WELL.

Despite the substantial increase in internet use during the pandemic, 9 in 10 Canadian home internet customers say their home internet service has handled the increased demand well, with only 10% having negative perceptions about the performance of their networks.

Perceptions are relatively consistent across the country, with 89% in Western Canada, 87% in Ontario, 94% in Quebec, and 92% in Atlantic Canada reporting that their home internet service has handled the increased demand well.

1 IN 5 HOME INTERNET SERVICE SUBSCRIBERS HAVE UPGRADED THEIR INTERNET SERVICE

The pandemic and its impact on internet use have also caused 1 in 5 Canadians to upgrade their home internet service over the past four weeks. Upgrading was consistent across Canada (18% in Western Canada, 21% in Ontario, 18% in Quebec, and 16% in Atlantic Canada).

Those under the age of 45 were more likely to upgrade their home internet service (27%) than those aged 45 and over (12%).

UPSHOT

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread worry, anxiety, and loneliness for millions of Canadians who are stuck at home and isolated from their loved ones and usual activities.

But a high-speed internet connection has meant that millions have been able to keep working, learning, and connecting with those important in their lives. Many Canadians are doing things they wouldn’t usually be doing because of their home internet connection. It has also allowed governments, businesses, and non-profits to rapidly create seamless tools and applications for Canadians to apply for emergency aid programs, set up e-commerce businesses, and raise money for worthy causes.

Many are finding comfort and focus by streaming music through their homes. Millions are breaking bread with family and friends over a video chat. Small business owners are staying connected with their clients through video conferencing or selling their products or services through e-commerce platforms managed from their homes.

While a screen cannot replace the feeling of connecting and socializing in person, it has helped Canadians cope, react, and respond to the unprecedented challenge created by the COVID-19 outbreak. Millions are using the internet more today than ever before.

And almost all Canadians believe that their home internet connection has managed the extra demand on the network well, and millions have upgraded their service in response to the new demand they are putting on their home networks.

For video interviews by Skype or Zoom or audio interviews, please contact David at 613-884-4730 or david@abacusdata.ca

METHODOLOGY

Our survey was conducted online with 2,183 Canadians aged 18 and over from April 19 to 22, 2020. A random sample of panellists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.3%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

ABOUT ABACUS DATA

We are the only research and strategy firm that helps organizations respond to the disruptive risks and opportunities in a world where demographics and technology are changing more quickly than ever.

We are an innovative, fast-growing public opinion and marketing research consultancy. We use the latest technology, sound science, and deep experience to generate top-flight research-based advice to our clients. We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail and exceptional value.

We were one of the most accurate pollsters conducting research during the 2019 Canadian Election.

Contact us with any questions.

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