Time Spent Online Matches Time Spent Watching TV

time spent onlineSmall wonder, it turns out, that projections forecast internet advertising will outstrip print advertising for the first time ever in 2011. Borrell Associates is “forecasting a moderate increase in overall ad spending for 2011, but continued strong growth for online advertising, including mobile.”

Overall ad spending, Borrell’s predicts, will increase by somewhat less than 5 percent over 2010 levels and will total $238.6 billion; while online ad spending will increase at slightly less than 14 percent to $45.6 billion.

More interesting, however, is the recently released analysis from Forrester’s, which shows that “Americans are now spending as much time using the Internet as they are watching television.” And this, of course, is before Internet-connected televisions have become the norm – as seems will be the case – in American homes.

While we might assume that there would be a strong correlation between the time Americans spend interacting online and the time they spend passively watching television, this does not seem to be the case. In fact, consumers are spending roughly the same number of hours as ever in front of the TV, according to Forrester’s.

“Forrester’s survey does show a significant increase in the number of people using the Internet to watch streaming video,” the New York Times’ BitsBlog’ reports, with “33 percent of adults surveyed [saying] they use the Internet to watch video, up from 18 percent in 2007.”

However, the amount of time Americans spend online comes almost exclusively from the time that was formerly spent “listening to the offline versions of radio and reading printed newspapers and magazines. A drop in use of these formerly stalwart mediums, combined with the surge in Internet use, accounts for the forecast that online advertising buys will exceed print ad buys in 2011.

Forrester’s analyst Jacqueline Anderson, the study’s author, makes the case that digital media doesn’t so much take away from the time we spend in front of the tube; rather, “the Internet, and particularly the mobile Internet, simply creates more opportunities for people to consume media.” Before this age of 24/7 digital consumption, few of us would have seen the checkout line of our local supermarket “as a prime opportunity for media consumption.”

Significantly, while steadily rising media use amongst younger demographics has been a fixed reality of the marketing landscape for some time, “the Forrester’s survey shows that this is the first year that people in older age groups are also doing so.”

Forrester’s does note that there is already a fuzziness to their data brought about by the difficulty of distinguishing between watching television and streaming television programming online. It seems clear that this fuzziness will only increase with wide-spread adoption of televisions that act as Internet portals.

Moreover, as video streaming begins to replace broadband cable viewing, the advertising model will have to change. It seems to be only a matter of time until online marketing revenues begin to exceed cable advertising revenues, and the Internet replaces cable television as the medium of choice, just as it has in respect of offline radio and print media.

James Barry covers internet marketing and online marketing topics for Wolf21.com, a Toronto-based firm offering a full line of SEO services.

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