Online growth spurt for kids

2- to 11-year-olds make up 9.5% of Web users

Kids are coming online in droves -- at a faster rate than the general Web population -- and spending more and more entertainment time with the digital medium, according to a new study from Nielsen Online.

During the past five years, the kids' Web universe has swelled by 18%; that compares with the 10% growth rate seen in the relative mature general Web population. As of May, the kids 2-11 audience had reached 16 million, or 9.5% of the active online universe.

That increase is particularly noteworthy in that it occurred during a period in which the number of kids under 14 in the U.S. declined by 1% (from July 2004 to July 2009, per the U.S. Census Bureau).

But even more eye-catching than the growth in the kids' Web audience is its heavy surge in usage when compared to the rest of the Web. Across the board, the average Web user has been spending lots more time with the Internet -- overall time spent is up 36% in the past five year, per Nielsen.

But kids seem to be living on the Web. Time spent online among kids has soared 63% during the past five years as they are increasingly drawn to watching videos and playing games.

According to Nielsen, kids 2-11 spent nearly seven hours online per month five years ago, versus 11 hours a month in 2009, with boys spending slightly more time than girls (7% more in May). That usage disparity is perhaps most evident in online video viewing, as boys accounted for 61% of video streams among kids on the Web and 57% of kids' time spent viewing videos.

However, the kids online video landscape -- once dominated by kids TV players Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney -- is changing as options for kids and digital media buyers abound, the study shows.