Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Time Spent With Media Falters, Digital Spawns Shorter Attention Spans

Time Spent With Media Falters, Digital Spawns Shorter Attention Spans
by Joe Mandese

THE RAPID SHIFT OF CONSUMERS toward digital media options for news, information and entertainment is producing an unintended consequence for all of the industry's stakeholders--especially advertisers: It's reducing the amount of time people spend with media. For the first time in recent memory, the amount of time consumers spend with media has declined, according to the 2007 edition of an influential industry report, which forewarns that the efficiency of using digital media is the primary factor.
The average American consumer spent 3,530 hours with media in 2006--down 0.5% from 2005, according to the just-released estimates from the 21st edition of Veronis Suhler Stevenson's Communications Industry Forecast. That drop follows a period of decelerating growth that the VSS report attributes to the increased efficiency of utilizing digital media--especially online and mobile technologies--which tend to be less time-consuming that traditional media counterparts.

"For example, consumers typically watch broadcast or cable television at least 30 minutes per session, while they spend as little as five to seven minutes viewing consumer-generated video," the report concludes.

"We all knew that there was only 24 hours in the day, and even with multitasking there would be a point where people maxed out," says James Rutherfurd, executive vice president and managing director at VSS, who oversees the report in conjunction with consultants PQ Media. "It has just come a little faster than we thought because of the efficiency of digital media."

Rutherfurd says he was "pretty surprised" by the dip in time spent with media in 2006, and that 2007 looks to be "basically flat" as well despite increased multitasking among media.

In fact, the total consumer time usage masks even more profound shifts taking place across various forms of media, some like online and "institutional" media, that continue to grow in total hours and share of total time spent with media.

For example, Rutherfurd points out that 2006 was the first year that "pure play" Internet usage was at "parity" with newspapers, which he says is a harbinger of things to come.

"Just to pick on the poor old newspaper industry, they're at parity in 2006 and then in 2007, the Internet takes over," he says. In fact, the VSS report also projects that those time trends are contributing to a profound shift in the economics of the industry, and that by 2011, the Internet will surpass newspapers as the No. 1 ad medium (see related story in today's MediaDailyNews).

The decline in total time spent with media also appears to exacerbate an ongoing shift away from time spent with ad-supported media. In 2006, the share of consumer time spent with media that have "significant advertising support" dropped to 53.8%, its lowest point since VSS began tracking such information. The share of time spent with "media supported predominately by consumers" rose to 46.2%, and VSS projects such media will become the dominant source sometime after 2011.

The VSS data also suggests that America is becoming a less literate society--at least it is becoming less so in terms of printed literary matter.

The percentage of time Americans spend with print media fell to 11.9% of total media usage in 2006--down from 13.1% in 2001, the base year of the current tracking study. By 2011, VSS predicts, print media will fall to 10.6% of all media usage.

"Pure-play digital media," online and mobile media content that is unique to those platforms, meanwhile, is the fastest-growing source of consumer media time--accounting for 5.3% of total media usage in 2006, up from 3.7% in 2001.

Broadcast and out-of-home media continue to be the most pervasive source of consumer media time, and VSS calls reports that consumers are "abandoning" television an "exaggeration." However, profound shifts are taking place within the medium, and the amount of time spent with broadcast TV is eroding.

Another surprising area of growing usage is among so-called "institutional" media such as business-to-business media or industrial sources of business information. Usage of such institutional media increased 3.2% in 2006, reaching 260 hours per worker per year. That calculation does not include time spent utilizing consumer media while at work, according to Leo Kivijarv, vice president-research at research and consulting firm PQ Media, which helps VSS compile its report. However, both Kivijarv and VSS' Rutherfurd said the lines between business and consumer use of media at work are beginning to blur and that future editions of the report will likely seek to break it out.

Among the key drivers in the increasing use of institutional media, "was the integration of advanced online and digital platforms into daily business workflow," reads the report."

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