According to the study, conducted by the Online Publishers Association, internet users are spending nearly half their time online visiting content, a 37% increase in share of time from four years ago. Time spent with online properties took on new significance in July when Nielsen/Net Ratings said it would report the measure, adding another layer of complexity to analyzing the behavior of online audiences. Page views and number of unique users have long been used by advertisers to figure out whether a website's audience is worth courting.
Giving an edge to OPA members
But looking at time spent may give certain web properties more of an edge than others. A site that offers online video, for example, might command more time from a web surfer, even though that person might not go as deep into a particular web property.
The OPA is a trade group representing just those types of online media that could stand to benefit from the "total minutes" measure -- traditional media companies seeking to carve out a bigger stake of the online audience. OPA's members include Gannett, Dow Jones, Walt Disney Co., Discovery Communications and McClatchy, among others.
The new survey shows that internet users' share of time spent with content increased to 47% in 2007 from 34% in 2003. The 2007 figures include activity in January through May. Time spent for search increased to 5% from 3%, a 35% jump. Share of time spent with commerce fell slightly to 15% from 16%, a 5% drop. And share of time spent with web-based communications fell to 33% from 46%, a 28% decline.
Offline going online
Driving the amount of time spent with content is the transition of offline content -- news, entertainment and weather -- online, said Pam Horan, president of OPA. "Major news events such as Hurricane Katrina and high-profile seasonal events such as the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament are clearly driving consumers to engage more deeply with online content," she said.
The OPA also cited other factors, such as the greater accessibility of the internet; increased popularity of online video; better ability to search for content; and the rise of instant messaging as a communications tool as reasons for the increase in time spent with content sites.
The survey is based on results from the OPA's "Internet Activity Index," which is a monthly gauge of time spent with e-commerce, communications, content and search.