Thursday, August 09, 2007

Media Consumers Finally Saying, `Enough Already!'

Media Consumers Finally Saying, `Enough Already!'
Begin Cutting Claims On Time
Courant Staff Writer,0,5863770.story

Americans' appetite for time in front of the computer, iPod or television may finally be on the wane, after almost a decade during which our media consumption grew steadily.

Consumers spent slightly less time with media - including both traditional and digital offerings, in print and onscreen - in 2006, compared with 2005. It was the first decline since 1997, private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson reported Tuesday.

We now log an average of 9.7 hours each day consuming media. Some experts say we're at the saturation point.

"There's only so much time available to add more kinds of media," University of Hartford communications Professor Jack Banks said. "At some point, something's gotta give."

That something is likely to be traditional, ad-supported media like broadcast television and printed newspapers, which the report found are enjoying less attention from consumers as emerging media take up more of their time.

The 3,530 hours that the average consumer spent with media in 2006 - a whopping 40 percent of all hours, including sleep time - represented a 0.5 percent drop from 2005. Over the previous decade, media usage typically increased 1 percent to 3 percent a year, said Leo Kivijarv, vice president for research at PQ Media, which produced the report with VSS.

The term media was widely defined, including TV, newspapers, movies, books, music and video games, not to mention the wide world of the Internet.

Much of the previous decade's growth in media consumption stemmed from new technologies that generated new excitement. Kivijarv said. For example, consumers replacing VCRs with DVD players tended to spend more time with the new devices.

The slowdown in media consumption in 2006 represents a saturation point, Kivijarv said, but that doesn't mean Americans are waning in their hunger for the offerings on the vast media menu. Rather, he suggested, "on-demand" digital technologies allow consumers to be more efficient. Instead of leafing through several sections of a newspaper, readers are able to call up the two or three articles of interest to them, almost immediately on a newspaper's website, he said.

"Somebody goes online, they're very specific for what they're looking for," he said.

In a landscape as broad as American media, there could be plenty of room for growth in some areas even as others are saturated. For example, we could be unable to digest more active, leisure-time media at home, but have time available for more at the office, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

The VSS report notes that media use at businesses and government offices - for legitimate work purposes - increased by about 3 percent in 2006, to an average 260 hours per employee. With a 40-hour week totaling 2,000 hours a year, that represents room for growth.

Then there is the matter of procrastination at work, as computers bring a festival of time-wasting opportunities that expand as old-line media jump online, Thompson said. Now that TV networks have started to offer their programming online, you can spend a very long lunch hour catching up on the latest episode of "Grey's Anatomy."

Last year, Thompson said, "was a big year for being able to watch TV at work and get away with it. You could never have dragged a portable TV set into your cubicle."

Young people are "probably at 100 percent media saturation, even counting sleeping," he said. Multitasking intersperses media consumption with the rest of life, and portable technology makes it possible to bring those habits anywhere, he said.

The report draws a sharp distinction between media that are mostly paid for by advertisers, such as broadcast TV and print journalism, and subscriber-funded media, including cable TV, video games and some websites. The first group, the heart of traditional mass media, is declining. The latter group is growing.

Advertisers have already followed audiences into new media, and that trend will gain speed. By 2011, the VSS report estimates, the Internet will surpass newspapers as the largest medium for advertising.

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