User-made content booms

'Reverses 450 years of media trends'

As more Americans connect to the Internet each year, increasing numbers are posting their own content online, according to the USC-Annenberg Digital Future Project survey set to be released today.

In addition to the 12.5% of Internet users who have personal Web sites, the survey found that 7.4% of users maintain their own blogs, a number that has more than doubled since 2003.

"It's an incredible phenomenon," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the USC-Annenberg School, which conducted the study. "It reverses 450 years of media trends."

The data is likely to be a hot topic at the Digital Entertainment Media and Marketing Excellence conference convening today and Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City. The event is sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and other publications owned by VNU Business Media.

Cole emphasized the importance of the user-generated content trend, noting that the public for the first time is not relying as heavily on big media companies to give them news and information.

"Users are saying, 'I want to be the source of information,' " Cole said. "It's the first time since the invention of the printing press that 'the many' are able to communicate back."

Larry Gerbrandt, senior vp and general manager at Nielsen Analytics, agrees that user-generated content could have a far-reaching influence over American culture in the future. "What we're seeing here is the next evolution of communication in the U.S.," he said. "We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg."

The USC-Annenberg Digital Future Project is an annual survey that looks at the habits of more than 2,000 American Internet users and non-Internet users. The survey is in its sixth year and tracks more than 100 issues including online purchasing, modem versus broadband use, Web site reliability and search questions.

The survey found that the Internet also has affected television viewing with 41% of "very experienced" Internet users — defined as those who have been using the Web for nine or more years — saying that their Web consumption has caused them to watch less television. Only 23% of new Internet users — those who have been using the Web for one year — said they watch less television because of the Internet.

Slightly less than 60% of new and very experienced Internet users reported watching the same amount of television, while 21.5% of the new users said they watched more television compared with 2.3% of very experienced users who said they watched more. Non-Internet users also reported watching 21.4 hours of television per week compared with 12.3 hours for Web users.

Cole said the numbers could be reaching a plateau. "We don't think the Internet is a threat to television anymore," he said. "We see it just as much of an opportunity."

Internet users reported going to the movies and playing video games more than nonusers, spending 0.2 more hours per week in the theater and nearly one more hour per week gaming. Nonusers reported spending two more hours listening to the radio than Internet users.

The survey found that for the first time, more women are now going online than men, with 78.4% of females reporting that they use the Web compared with 76.7% of men. Last year, 79% of men were Internet users compared with 73.6% of women.

"Men tend to be early adopters," Gerbrandt said. "Once a technology gets out there broadly, you see gender bias go away."

Broadband proliferation also has reached a new high with 50% of those surveyed using that technology to get online, up from 48.3% last year.

"That's critical mass," Gerbrandt said of the statistic. "That's one of the reasons YouTube has been so successful; you don't want to try to access streaming video via a dial-up connection.

The report also found that hours spent online continues to grow. The average user now spends 8.9 hours per week online, one hour more than a year ago.

Online purchasing also has risen to its highest levels in the past six years, with 51.1% of respondents now buying via the Web. They are spending an average of $50 a month more than in 2001.
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