Cannibalization or Addition?

I came across a piece of research by Forrester recently that sent me back five years, perceptually speaking. Reading it, I thought back to the heady Internet days when the bravado and machismo of the digital age pitted the Web against traditional media. Those days are certainly over. Now, collective thinking revolves around the notion of 1+1=3, or a multimedia campaign’s collective synergy is more effective than its individual parts.

The report, “The Internet’s Big Impact On Media, 1998 to 2003,” is part of the Consumer Technographics 2003 North America Retail and Media Online Study. It chronicles effects the Internet has had on consumers across a variety of media types and content categories. Multiple responses weren’t allowed, so there were clear winners in each category. The question asked was, “Which media source do you prefer to use for the following types of information and content?”

You’ll no doubt be happy to learn the Internet was the clear winner for “adult entertainment,” with 56 percent of responses; followed by TV at 17 percent (Mom, I’ll bet you’re proud of me now). The Internet was a decisive winner in the business information category, with 65 percent of votes; trailed by newspapers at 13 percent. The Internet was the overwhelming favorite for a few other categories including archived news stories (no surprise there), greeting cards, product information, stock quotes and reference information.

TV made a respectable showing, topping the regular news category at 41 percent vs. the Web at 26 percent. TV sports news clocked 37 percent, vs. 29 percent for the Internet. Finally, newspapers can breathe a (temporary) sigh of relief. They boast top personal ad rankings, as well as all kinds of listings: jobs, movies, real estate, and TV.

Data trends are the most interesting aspect of this study. As an example, while job listings remain a newspaper-dominated category, the Internet’s trajectory from 1998 to 2003 shows it is destined to surpass newspapers in the next 12 months. The same can be said for movie listings and real estate. The past two years revealed chinks in television’s armor. News and sports look to be superceded by the Internet within 12-18 months.

Take some of this data and overlay it with other sources that show Web usage in narrow and broadband households is increasing. This begs the question we’ve been wrestling with for years: Do consumers use less traditional media, or do they consume more media overall (e.g. multitasking)?

My guess is both are true.

Multitasking isn’t new. People can chew gum and pat their bellies at the same time, or watch TV while talking on the phone and IMing. It pervades our culture. What this means is we must focus attention on attentiveness and receptivity.

I’ve had this debate with traditional research practitioners a million times. They’re finally beginning to give me the benefit of the doubt. Some demographic and psychographic categories show traditional media losing the usage war to the Internet. In other instances, they’re clinging to data that show no noticeable decline in magazine circulation, radio listeners, HUTs (homes using television) and PUTs (people using television).

I frankly don’t care what the research tells us. There’s not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that digital media erode the marketshare and mindshare of US consumers across the board. Today, there may be significant multitasking across target segments that doesn’t translate into traditional media usage drops. That won’t always be the case. While in this in-between state, I wonder if the planning community is adding some type of immersion/attentiveness factor to the various media being considered. I believe a syndicated research company (SRI) does provide this type of relative “immersiveness” factor across media. We should use it.

If you think I’m falling into that “the Internet is better than traditional media” trap, or I still have a digital chip on my shoulder — I don’t. I want us to be smart about today’s landscape and make sure we view it objectively. I’m encouraged by where we’re heading. If common sense has anything to say about it, we’re in for a continually shifting landscape that will forever change the way we consume news, information and entertainment.

Kool-Aid, anyone?

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