What Do We Want? Media! When Do We Want It? Now!

Americans Are Watching More TV, Texting Like Crazy and Surfing Up a Storm -- and That's Only the Half of It

By Published on .

YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Americans have a voracious appetite for media, and there are few signs that we're nearing satiation.

In the past year and a half, we've added two more hours per week to our at-home TV diet (via Deloitte), sent and received half a trillion more text messages (CTIA) and spent 1.3 more hours per week online (Forrester Research).

Thanks in part to the slow economy and nearly ubiquitous broadband, widespread Wi-Fi access, the rise of multitasking and a proliferation of new devices, technology and content, the media consumption lifestyle of "anytime and anywhere" has changed from an early-adopter novelty to common American behavior.

"We're finding a way to do more of it, watch more of it and take more of it with us," said Patricia McDonough, Nielsen Co. senior VP-analysis. American households spent an average of $1,380 on consumer electronics, up $151 from 2009, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Overall, consumer electronics are expected to ship $175 million in goods this year, and $182 billion in 2011. Wireless revenue adds another $153 billion to the annual tally, and the video game industry is $20 billion, with roughly half of that coming from software sales.

That's only what's spent on the platforms we use to consume media. Billions more are spent on movies, TV shows, videos, music, audio broadcasts, news, features and other online information.

And contrary to stereotype, it's not just millennials, often called "digital natives," who are driving all this consumption. Ed Moran, director of insights and innovation at Deloitte, studies millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers as different categories of consumers, but said, "We break things up that way to see if they are that different, and in some cases they really are, like texting. ... But in many cases, we're surprised at how homogenous media use is across the generations."

To see just what that media use is, we looked at a wide swath of research and divided it into the following consumption categories:


Some 116 million American households now have at least one TV (up 1% over last year), but a whopping 55% of those households have three or more. As Nielsen's Ms. McDonough put it, "There are more TVs in this country than there are people."

And they're getting a lot of use. Americans on average now spend 35 hours and 34 minutes per week watching TV the traditional way -- on a TV set at home or work; another two hours watching time-shifted TV, such as via DVR; another 20 minutes watching videos on the internet; and four minutes watching videos on a mobile phone, according to Nielsen research.

We watch more ad-supported cable than commercial broadcast TV compared to four years ago: 19% vs. 17%, with the percentages reversed in 2005-2006, but about the same amount of public broadcast (0.7%) and premium cable (1.4%). Nielsen also found that HDTV adoption has risen quickly -- 54% of TVs were HD capable in July vs. just 10% three years ago. HD owners watch 3% more prime-time programming than standard TV people, and their top five shows during May sweeps this year were "The Office," "24," "Parks and Recreation," "30 Rock" and "Modern Family," over-indexing by 26 to 31 points when compared with the total U.S. viewing audience.

Deloitte's annual "State of the Media Democracy" survey found that 26% of people "just watch TV," down from 34% the previous year. They are multitasking TV time by social networking (21%); playing video games (16%); purchasing products online (15%); participating by phone or internet with what's happening on the TV (7%); and tweeting (4%).


On an average day, 78% of Americans with internet access go online, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey in May. What do they do? Sixty-two percent send or receive email; 49% use a search engine to find information, 43% to get news; and 38% go online "just for fun or to pass the time." Another 38% are social networkers, while 34% check the weather, 26% do banking and 23% watch videos. At the low end of activities? Just 1% of the online population on an average day donates to a charity, visits an adult website, researches family genealogy, visits a virtual world or sells something.


When asked, "Did you read a newspaper yesterday," only 31% of Americans said yes, the lowest percentage in two decades of polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in its biannual survey of news consumption. When asked if they read anything on a newspaper website yesterday (the poll was taken in June), the total number rises, just a bit, to 37%.

The readers also have more grey than the pages. The largest group of traditional newspaper readers is 65 and older (62%), followed by 44% ages 50 to 64, and 39% ages 40 to 49. Just 20% of 18-to-24-year-olds read a traditional newspaper, and in fact, 31% said they got no news at all yesterday.

Magazines have fared better in the digital age, with surveys consistently reporting that the majority of Americans prefer to read paper magazines vs. digital versions. The CMO Council said in May that 67% prefer a magazine to an e-reader, and 87% said they would continue to favor print subscriptions. But could the rise of the flashier and richer-content capable iPads and other tablets eventually sabotage that loyalty?


About 10% of U.S. consumers have bought an e-book, according to last week's update of the annual Deloitte media survey. And it's making them read and buy more books. Fifty-six percent of e-book buyers say they are reading more digitally than they did on paper, and 61% say they are buying more e-books than they did print ones. (The people reading include those using specialized e-readers as well as iPads, smartphones and other devices.)

Last week, in its annual "State of the Consumers and Technology Benchmark," Forrester Research reported 3.7 million e-readers sold last year, but it predicted 10.3 million will be sold this year, 15.5 million next year and almost 30 million by 2015.

Forrester is also projecting quick iPad adoption. In a June survey, it found that 10 million Americans either already own (2.5 million) or intend to purchase (7.4 million) an iPad. (Apple said in June it had shipped more than 3 million iPads, a global tally.)


At the end of 2009, there were 286 million wireless subscriber connections in the U.S., an increase of 38% from 208 million at the end of 2005, according to wireless association CTIA. That means there are almost as many subscribers as there are people living in the U.S. The CDC said 89% of households had a wireless phone at the end of 2009, with 25% having only a wireless connection.

People are also using wireless phones in ways other than making calls. Some 72% of consumers now text, up from 65% last year, according to Deloitte's research. CTIA says 153 billion texts are sent every month, although teens beat adults in sheer volume. Pew Internet found in a September report that teens send and receive an average of 50 texts daily, with adults averaging just 10.

Other cellphone uses: 42% access the internet (up from 36% last year); 30% do mobile search; 27% download apps; 26% use it for GPS; and 15% are buying products on their phones, according to Deloitte.

As one might guess, smartphones in particular are seeing strong growth. Smartphones now account for 25% of the U.S. mobile market, according to August data from Nielsen, which forecasts that smartphones will take a majority market share from feature phones by the end of 2011.

Smartphones are also important to consumers. Almost half (47%) say their smartphone is one of their top three "most valuable media and entertainment products," according to Deloitte.


You might think this category is all about Facebook and Twitter. But that's only a fraction of the story. Social-media networking site LinkedIn now boasts 75 million members and has grown -- some say due to the recession and renewed job hunting -- from 50 million last October and 25 million in July 2008. Twitter, by comparison, has about 100 million members and Facebook about 500 million.

Social media is also not just for kids. Pew Internet reported that, from April 2009 to May 2010, while social media use by 18-to-29-year-olds grew 13%, from 76% to 86%, boomers were catching on too. Social-media use jumped by 88% for 50- to 64-year-olds, from 25% to 47%, and by 100% for those 65 and older, from 13% to 26%.

Overall, according to Forrester's benchmark report last week, 40% of the U.S. population maintains a social-networking profile, up from just 17% in 2008.


Conventional wisdom says the much-hyped apps market is driving the adoption of cellphones. But real-life consumers say that's not the case. Deloitte analyst Mr. Moran said only 65% of people who own smartphones have ever downloaded an app. Almost 60% of owners or those who intend to buy say it is price and functionality -- such as a camera or specific keyboard -- that influence their smartphone purchase most. Only 18% said apps were a factor.

In a September Pew Internet study, "The Rise of the Apps Culture," researchers found the most-prolific app users to be younger, more educated and more affluent than other cellphone users. And age is the best determiner of app use: 79% of 18-to-29-year-olds who have apps use them, while 67% of 30-to-49-year-olds and 50% of the 50-and older set use them.

Most Popular
In this article: