Digital Compression: Time Spent With Media Continues To Ebb

In a development suggesting that the expansion of the media universe may not be infinite, the amount of time people spend using media continues to decline, according to the 2008 edition of a highly regarded tracking report. For the third year in a row, the time Americans spend with media declined, according findings from the 22nd edition of private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson's Communications Industry Forecast.

Although the declines are modest, dropping just 0.1% in 2006, 2007 and 2008, they suggest that the shift toward digital media is enabling consumers to compress the amount of time they spend accessing and consuming media.

The declines are impacting traditional media, especially print media such as newspapers, magazines, and books, though even traditional TV usage is projected to decline this year. The problem, says VSS Executive Vice President James Rutherfurd, is that digital media is more efficient in terms of the amount of time consumers spend accessing and consuming the equivalent amount of media content, and the total amount of time people are spending with media is declining as a result. He calls this the "efficiency effect" of digital media.

"A consumer looking for news can, in ten minutes online, capture what probably took 40 minutes to do with a traditional newspaper," he notes. "I think what you will see is that the time spent with new media obviously is increasingly, but the total time spent with media is not."

This year, VSS projects that the amount of time the average American will spend consuming media will decline 0.1% to 3,493 hours, many of which will be diverted from traditional media platforms that VSS says are growing "obsolescent," such as dial-up Internet access, VHS, and audio cassettes.

"Time spent with media that have a digital component, however, is expected to climb," the report concludes. "For example, time spent with pure-play Internet will surpass recorded music as the third most used medium after television and radio. Meanwhile, time spent by institutions on select media, such as professional information, business-to-business magazines, and outsourced corporate training, will continue to rise, climbing 4.2% in 2008 to 301 hours per employee, as technological advances allow businesses to access information 24/7. As a result of the decline in consumer media usage, overall time spent with media will grow only 0.2% in 2008 to 3,713 hours per person."

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