Report From Bonita Springs Conference

Internet Erosion of TV Viewing Habits Deepens

iMedia Conference Gets Preview of UCLA Study Results

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BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- Optimism, a sentiment often in short supply among interactive marketers and publishers since the bubble burst of 2001, reared its head at the iMedia Communications Brand Summit here today, as marketing executives and researchers pointed to signs interactive marketing is gaining traction as a supplement or even alternative to TV advertising.

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TV advertising
But the optimism about online was mixed with a big helping of pessimism about TV. Internet usage is playing a role in lowering the effectiveness of TV advertising in ways that could force advertisers to look elsewhere for more efficient spending, said Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy. The center is preparing to release results from the fourth year of its 16-country study of more than 10,000 youths on how the Internet is affecting society.

Of the 11.8 hours the average Internet user spends online weekly, more than half is coming from TV viewing and almost none from sleep or socialization, Mr. Cole said. The Internet caused the number of hours children 14 and under spend watching TV to decline for the first time in 1998, a trend that has continued in recent years, he said. But only in 2002 did Internet usage begin to affect time spent with print media, and then only modestly.

"Internet users watch 28% less TV than non-Internet users," Mr. Cole said, "though Internet users still spend more time watching TV than they spend on the Internet."

Broadband
Growing penetration of broadband, which UCLA has found was used by 36.8% of Internet users last year, is at first blush good news for TV advertisers, because broadband users are more likely to go online in short 2- to 3-minute bursts rather than the 30 minutes common among modem users, he said. But the 2- to 3-minute bursts tend to come during TV commercial breaks, he said. "It's becoming the thing people do during the commercials."

Mr. Cole expects this viewing trend to force media buyers to find ways to pay only for ratings of commercials watched rather than of entire programs, an idea that could further come in to play as adoption of digital video recorders such as TiVo becomes common.

"TV is still the best game in town," he said. "I don't think you'll see one-third of media budgets going to interactive. But you don't hear as much about people making fun of the Internet anymore."

Internet multi-taskers
Mr. Cole is also beginning to see the initial stages of a trend toward broadband connections in kitchens. More than half of Internet users multitask, he said, with TV viewing the most common second task and a third of the multi-taskers doing at least three things at once.

"The Internet has become the most important source of information for Internet viewers," he said. But it's still not much of an entertainment medium, ranking fifth in UCLA research among entertainment media options among users.

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