Multitasking

Arbitron would call me a “streamie,” and I’m a streamie from way back.

A “streamie,” if you’re not up on the jargon, is someone who can do what the oldest versions of Windows just claimed to do — multitask. Back in my salad days (when I was green in judgment) I could easily read a book, listen to a record, watch TV, and carry on a conversation all at the same time.

Age has somewhat dimmed my ability to multitask, but I’ve still got the TV on in a corner as I write this article. I also have several browser windows open, one of which is tuned to last week’s Arbitron study on people like me, a study that offers those in Internet commerce and advertising some real hope.

The study indicates that when streamies (36 percent of us are “audio streamies,” while just 12 percent are “video streamies”) are asked whether they would rather give up TV or their Internet connection, the numbers look like the last election, with 47 percent on each side. Streamies stay online longer and buy online more often, according to the study.

The study goes on to point out that with the number of broadband homes expected to double in the next year or two, the number of streamies should also grow. And the time we spend online is time taken away from TV. That seems reasonable to me, because when I start concentrating on my computer work, I do tend to forget the program that’s on in the background.

Naturally broadband users are at the heart of the streamie population. While one-fourth of dial-up users said getting a stream going was “very easy,” nearly half of broadband users said the same.

Not all the news is good. My wife, for instance, has never been a multitasker, and her personality doesn’t change when she goes online. You have to ask if the broadband market has already found its niche and whether mainstream users will behave the same as early adopters.

The proof here comes in one of the Arbitron charts, indicating that “young male-oriented formats” are most popular among audio streamers. (Multitasking and streaming just don’t seem as popular among women.) You also have to question the “legs” of a phenomenon that depends heavily on turning an Internet connection into an at-work radio. Active streamers are listening at work, usually to local stations.

The early winners from this study will be local radio stations that could claim a bigger audience based on these results. Some hardware and peripheral niches might also benefit. For instance, I think streamies who work at home might be interested in linking their computer systems to their stereos so that they can listen anywhere in the house.

But this much seems clear: This medium isn’t going away. It’s growing and evolving despite economic conditions. Those who are in it for the long term are going to do just fine.

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