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Content Surges to Lead U.S. Web Use

  |  November 19, 2004   |  Comments

Rise in broadband penetration is driving force of change.

Content quantifiably registered as the leading U.S. online activity in October, according to the latest monthly report by the Online Publisher's Association.

"The study is based on the hypothesis that the use of the Internet is increasingly changing from one of utility to one of a medium," said Michael Zimbalist, president of the New York-based organization. "People are treating the Internet more and more like traditional media, through which they consume movies, music, and news. Long-term trends continue to indicate that content will be the dominant source of people's time online."

The study, conducted in conjunction with Nielsen//NetRatings, indexes a representative panel of 40,000 Internet users, tracking their online activities (omitting visits to .edu, .gov, and porn sites, as well as Web sites with traffic below 1 million visitors per month). That methodology accounts for 65 percent of all U.S. Web sites and almost 90 percent of all U.S. Web traffic, said Corey Jeffery, senior analyst at Nielsen//NetRatings.

It then breaks that activity down into four categories: commerce, communications, content, and search. Defined as "Web sites and Internet applications designed primarily to deliver news, information, and/or entertainment," content led the four categories, ranking number one across all six metrics in October: with a 40.2 percent share of time spent online; an average 295 pages per person; 127.4 million unique visitors; 37.5 billion page views; and 86.1 percent reach.

Year-over-year data show content's share of time grew 4.9 percentage points over the 35.3 percent it registered in October 2003. Search's share of time spent grew 1.3 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, share of time for commerce and communications fell 0.7 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

The report's findings attribute growth in content-based activity to three factors: growth in broadband penetration; more innovative product offerings; and the coming of age of a generation that turns increasingly to the Internet as a primary source of information, news, and entertainment.

The findings are corroborated by recent data compiled by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. According to Susannah Fox, Pew's director of research, broadband connectivity has grown from 5 percent of all U.S. households in 2000 to 25 percent this year.

"We have found that broadband is having the deepest impact on the way people use the Internet," said Fox. "It's the most important trend we see." Prior to 2002, Pew cited the number of years experience using the Internet as the chief factor in determining the extent of a person's activities online, she said.

Citing evidence of the impact of the first generation to come of age using the Internet, Fox said for users in the 18-35 demographic, 40 percent said the Internet was the main source of their campaign news leading up to the elections this year. For respondents over 35, only 26 percent looked online for such political information.

Additionally, of the 68 million people online in the U.S. on an average day in 2004, 45 percent check email, while 27 percent read news online. Those figures compare to the 55 million people online in the U.S. on an average day in 2000, where 52 percent checked email and 22 percent got their news online, Fox said.

"E-mail has always been the killer app, but now it is not quite as dominant," Fox said. "This year content accounts for a larger piece of pie out of a bigger pie."

But content figures for October may be partially inflated due to the election, said Graham Mudd, senior analyst for comScore. According to data compiled by the analysis group, 25 million unique visitors went to political sites in October of 2004, compared to 9.9 million unique visitors to such sites in that period the previous year.

Internet Activity Index
Share of Time Spent Online (%)
October 2003 October 2004
Commerce 16.5 15.8
Communications 45.2 39.8
Content 35.3 40.2
Search 3.0 4.3
Pages per Person
October 2003 October 2004
Commerce 243 237
Communications 200 192
Content 279 295
Search 50 81
Page Views (Billions)
October 2003 October 2004
Commerce 23.8 25.2
Communications 21.8 22.8
Content 32.2 37.5
Search 4.8 9.1
Total Time Spent Online (Thousands of hours)
October 2003 October 2004
Commerce 213.4 235.4
Communications 585.4 594.1
Content 456.6 601.0
Search 38.8 63.8
Unique Visitors (Millions)
October 2003 October 2004
Commerce 98.2 106.2
Communications 109.0 118.4
Content 115.5 127.4
Search 96.3 111.8
Reach (%)
October 2003 October 2004
Commerce 72.1 71.8
Communications 80.0 80.1
Content 84.8 86.1
Search 70.7 75.6
Note: Excludes .gov and .edu Web sites, as well as pornographic domains.
Source: OPA and Nielsen//NetRatings

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