Monday, 25 June 2012

Why Do People Use the Internet?

Most broadcasters have spent a great deal of time trying to develop an internet strategy.  The CBC in particular seems determined to adopt the internet as its primary distribution mechanisim.  Here we re-visit some data trends and examine some new ones to better gauge the impact of the internet. 

Even when the internet was "dialed up" through the phone and incoming calls were cut off there were pundits claiming that the internet would result in the demise of TV, not to mention killing radio, newspapers, bricks and mortar stores, banks, the post office and pretty much every other human activity, except eating and sex.  The decline of newspapers and a reduction in snail mail are real and undoubtedly caused by the internet.  The internet has affected almost everything that deals with the printed word.  But, is the internet really taking time away from TV or radio?

Our ten-year study of media use shows that the internet is not nearly as pervasive as traditional radio and TV.  99% of people use TV and radio at least once per month but not everyone uses the internet. The chart below shows the trend in the percentage of Canadians using the internet and downloading/streaming of music (and video) on the net at least once a month.

Even by the mid-2000's the internet had a very substantial monthly 'reach', the proportion who used the internet for an hour at least once per month. Two-thirds of Canadians were using the internet at least once a month in 2004 and it grew to about 4 in 5 by 2009. However, internet use on a monthly basis seems to have stabilized at about 80% and has not grown in the past two years.  There may always be a group of people of a certain age and/or income group who will not use the net. 

A similar pattern is seen in downloading/streaming audio and video from the net which was practiced by about 1 in 5 people in 2004.  It grew to about 40% by 2009 but it too has stabilized in the past two years.  Barring some unforeseen new technology (and a reduction in data costs), it would seem that downloading/streaming may peak at levels well below overall internet use.  If devices that made downloading simpler and more intuitive, such as Apple TV and Google TV, become more pervasive, then internet listening/viewing may become more common.

In the chart below we track the weekly hours spent using the internet (at home, work or elsewhere). The surveys reveal that internet use basically doubled from 2004 to 2009, from just less than 6 hours per week to about 11 hours per week. But in the past 3 years internet use has stabilized at 10-11 hours per week. It may not grow much from this point on, although video streaming to the TV set has the potential to increase but is this internet use or TV viewing? 

TV use has been measured by the Media Trends Survey for ten consecutive years and it has been unaffected by the internet, remaining at about 19 hours per week through the decade, a decade when not only the internet but also many other media choices were introduced.  19 hours per week is less than ‘Nielsen’ ratings say but it is probably a more realistic estimate of the television audience.  Statistics Canada’s 2011 General Social Survey, conducted every 5 years or so and designed to measure how Canadians spend their time, mirrors the results of the Media Trends Survey.  Comscore data on total internet use has shown a very similar pattern to the results of our surveys. All the data point to one conclusion:  TV is not affected by the internet and continues to play a more important role in the lives of Canadians than the internet.

Since 2006 we have tracked cell phone/smartphone usage and the results are very telling.  Yes, roughly 3 in 4 Canadians now have a cell phone or smartphone and more and more people use it to text and send photos but less than 1 in 10 download music or video with their mobile device and there is scant evidence that downloading music/video to your phone is considered important or likely to become mainstream any time soon.

What about other new media?  In our 2011-12 survey we began tracking use of Facebook, Twitter, Apple TV, Netflix, etc.  Apple TV use barely measured in the survey while Netflix had a substantial penetration of about 1 in 12 people, about the same as Twitter.  A surprising 13% of people indicated they owned a tablet computer but the much more established iPod technology is still only owned by about 1 in 3 Canadians.  Only Facebook, which is used by about 1 in 2 people, comes close to being used by a majority of Canadians. 

What about CBC radio and TV?  Our surveys show that CBC Radio 2, even in its reduced state, is used for at least an hour per month by more people (9.0%) than Twitter (7.3%) or Netflix (7.6%).  (That’s pretty cool but generally ignored by the media.)  CBC Radio 1 (31.4%) and CBC News Network (33.0%) have monthly usage levels equal to that of the iPod.  (Maybe an IPO is in the works?)  CBC TV is a monster, used by over 70% of Canadians on a monthly basis. (Somebody call the Competition Bureau.) 

The Media Trends Survey has been conducted for ten consecutive years and has surveyed over 15,000 Canadians in total in this period. It is the only survey to have measured media use and attitudes continuously over this decade. The Media Trends Survey is not sponsored by any one industry or affiliated with a media company.  Therefore, the surveys are scrupulously designed not to bias respondents into favouring one medium or media outlet over another.  Barry Kiefl’s blog can be found here.

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