Home Tech Study Reveals 'Digital Divide,' But Not Necessarily The One You'd Think It Is

Given the rapid proliferation of new media of all kinds, the term "digital divide" appears to have been dropped from most industry, or even political discussions. But a new report on consumer media technologies reveals economic, racial and other demographic gaps continue to influence the adoption of digital media technologies, but they are not necessarily the ones you might think they are.

The report, the latest installment of The Home Technology Monitor, being released today by Knowledge Networks/SRI, does find a surprisingly wide gap in the penetration of seemingly ubiquitous digital media technologies such as personal computers and broadband access, but it also reveals that some newer media, including digital TV and cell phone services are accelerating more rapidly among lower or niche socio-economic groups.

In a comparison of white, African American and Hispanic households, for example, KN/SRI found that ownership of DVD players was essentially even, while African Americans were almost twice as likely to subscribe to digital cable TV services.



"It's not like there's one digital marketplace. We all tend to look at it that way, but it's really a diverse array of digital products and penetration levels," says David Tice, vice president of client service at KN/SRI and chief analyst on the Home Technology Monitor.

Percent Ownership Among Various Demographic Groups

Digital Cable DVD Player Home PC Broadband
Earning <$30,000 11% 38% 41% 8%
Earning $30-49,000 16% 63% 71% 16%
Earning $50,000+ 27% 74% 89% 39%

No Children 16% 47% 59% 16%
Any Children 22% 71% 76% 29%

White 17% 57% 69% 23%
African American 26% 55% 56% 15%
Hispanic 17% 55% 48% 14%

Source: Knowledge Networks/SRI's Home Technology Monitor 2004.

While politicians, economists and industry analysts had projected that economics would lead to a digital divide that split America into classes of digital "haves" and "have notes," Tice says different patterns are emerging and that lower income households are even showing signs of adopting some new digital media at faster rates. He said cell phones with Internet access, for example, are gaining more rapidly among lower income households and theorized that might be because they cannot afford the expense of a personal computer and conventional Internet access.

In fact, economics are a significant factor in the adoption of those latter technologies. Households earning $50,000 or more a year are more than twice as likely to have a personal computer than those earning less than $30,000 a year. They are also more than four times more likely to have broadband Internet access.

Tice says these patterns are evolving rapidly and likely will continue to shift over the next several years as the cost of digital technologies and services come down, but they still are crucial for marketers and ad agencies planning to use digital media to understand.

Indeed, despite their relatively low penetration, digital video recorders have been giving Madison Avenue fits due to their ability to easily bypass TV commercials, but the problem may be most severe among the highest end consumer targets. While the Home Technology Monitor estimates that only 4 percent of U.S. households have DVRs nationwide, the penetration is twice that for households earning $50,000-plus, and 2.5 times that for households earning $75,000-plus. Conversely, DVRs are present in only 1.5 percent of households earning less than $50,000.

Digital Video Recorder Penetration

DVR Penetration
Households Earning <$50,000 1.5%
Households Earning $50,000+ 8.0%
Households Earning $75,000+ 10.0%

All U.S. Households 4.0%

Source: Knowledge Networks/SRI's Home Technology Monitor 2004.
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