Nielsen reports online user trends

Study finds 79% would avoid Web site that charges

NEW YORK -- As media and entertainment companies continue to mull new ways to charge consumers for online news and entertainment, 85% continue to prefer that content remain free.

According to new research from Nielsen, which asked more than 27,000 consumers across 52 countries, there are, however, some opportunities.

While media firms continue to debate business models and experiment with various approaches to charging for digital content, Nielsen found that 52% of respondents favor micropayments. That said, only 43% say an easy payment method would make them more likely to pay for online content.

Advertising will certainly remain a key revenue stream for media companies in the digital space. Nielsen found that 47% of respondents are willing to accept more advertising to subsidize free content. In turn, 64% believe that if they must pay for content, there should be no ads.

Digital content, for which consumers are most likely to pay, or have paid for already, is professionally produced content that they are used to paying for offline, such as theatrical movies, music, games and select videos, including current television shows, Nielsen found.

"Consumers are least likely to pay for content that is essentially homegrown online, often by other consumers at fairly low cost," according to a summary of the Nielsen study. Such content includes online communities, podcasts, consumer-generated videos and blogs.

In between those two categories are various news offers -- from newspapers and magazines to Internet-only news sources and radio news and talk shows. While relatively expensive to produce, "much of their content has basically become a commodity, readily available elsewhere for free," Nielsen concluded.

Overall, Nielsen found that 79% would no longer use a Web site that charges them -- presuming they can find the same information at no cost. The research firm found that consumers look for content to meet certain criteria before they are willing to pay for it in the digital world. For example, 78% of respondents said they should get free online access if they already subscribe to a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV service.

And 71% say online content must be considerably better, but only 34% believe the quality of content would suffer if companies couldn't charge for it.

Also, 62% said if they pay for content, they should be free to copy and share it with whomever they want.