Report: Consuming Content Is Top 'Net Activity

The phrase "content is king" is back again. A recent survey performed by Nielsen/NetRatings for the Online Publishers Association (OPA) found that Internet users are spending 47 percent of their time online interacting with content sites in 2007, a number that has risen by over a third from what it was four years ago. In contrast, consumers are now spending less time using e-mail (33 percent), making commercial transactions (15 percent), and performing search tasks (5 percent). As recently as 2003, e-mail communication accounted for 46 percent of typical Internet usage, the OPA stated yesterday on its own content Web site.

The publishing trade group's Internet Activity Index divides consumers' online interests into the four categories noted above: content, communications, commerce, and search. It said that the Internet has evolved to the point where these four areas have established unique business models, which it called "a natural and healthy segmentation of the marketplace." Its Activity Index tracks usage rates of each in an attempt to provide "a benchmark for charting the relative impact of changing market dynamics on these segments." The analysis of Nielsen/NetRatings examined data from a large number of leading Web properties and Internet applications to derive its results.

In a press release yesterday, the OPA stated that the growth of consumers' time spent viewing content has risen steadily over the four-year period under review.

"The dominant role of content is driven by several important factors," said OPA president Pam Horan. "The first is the online transition of traditionally offline activities, such as getting news, finding entertainment information, or checking the weather. Quality content sites see a consistent pattern -- major news drives traffic spikes, but traffic remains consistently higher even after the event. 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 added: "New online features and communities are also leading consumers to spend a larger share of their online time with content. Consumers spend considerable time with social networking sites, which serve not only as places of content but are also increasingly important communications vehicles."

So, as consumers are growing more comfortable with the new medium, they are using it to supplant routine offline activities and investigate popular new entertainment and educational ones, rather than simply perform the often work-related tasks that brought them to the Internet in the first place. It's not a revelatory finding, but we at least know now that what we suspected was taking place is, in fact, really taking place.

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