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Hey, On-Demand Media Consumer! (Yeah, You)

By virtue of the fact that you're here and reading this, you are probably a "heavy on-demand media consumer," which means that you are part of the 21 percent of Americans whose attention every media company in the country is now scheming to grab.

One of the most expansive studies to date of U.S. media habits is just out, a product of Edison Media Research and Arbitron, the radio ratings company, and the survey portrays an even faster and more thoroughgoing change in how we use our time than previous reports showed.

Check out these highlights:

--A third of U.S. homes now have more than one computer. Eight years ago, fewer than half of households had even one.
--Among 12- to 17-year-olds, ownership of an iPod or similar device shot up from 27 percent to 42 percent in the past year.
--Asked to choose between never using the Internet or never watching TV, four in 10 respondents would kiss television goodbye. Among 12- to 34-year-olds, that number shoots up above 50 percent.
--One third of those surveyed have watched video on demand through cable or satellite TV, and 27 percent have watched a TV series on DVD.

The survey measured how much people "love" their gadgets and iPods came out on top, with 45 percent of owners professing "love" for their music machine, edging broadband Internet access (41 percent). The next batch of beloved devices were high-definition TV (34 percent), satellite radio (33 percent) and TiVo (32 percent.) Other stuff lagged further behind--satellite TV, Blackberrys, local radio, cable TV and web radio and video.

My big question about all this has long been, Where do folks find the time? Answer: They're spending less time with old media: The biggest loser is TV--33 percent of those surveyed said they are spending less time watching TV because they're on the web. Thirty percent said they read fewer magazines because of their online interests; an equal number said they are spending less time reading print versions of newspapers. And 19 percent said their AM/FM radio listening is down because of the web. But remember, this is the multi-tasking era--a quarter of the respondents said they often are on the web and watching TV at the same time.

On another topic we've batted around here on the big blog, the poll found an even split on whether network TV programming should face restrictions on the fare they broadcast: Fifty percent said the nets should be allowed to show whatever they want, while 48 percent disagreed. (An almost identical split showed up on whether network fare is "too dirty and explicit for your taste.")

Here's one finding that surprised me, mainly because I'm too dim to know if I even have access to video on demand on my cable service: Far more Americans have watched movies on demand via their cable system than have watched video on the Internet. I thought for sure that result would be the other way around, if only because you have to pay extra for movies on demand via cable, while the Internet video is often free. But of course there's a one-word explanation for the greater popularity of the cable video, and it starts with P and ends with O-R-N. (I once spoke to a media analyst type who argued that computers will finally displace TV from its central place in American pop culture only when most folks have computers in their bedrooms rather than the den, kitchen, or living room.)

Another surprise: Twice as many Americans have listened to Internet radio in the past month as subscribe to a DVD rental service such as Netflix or Blockbuster Online. Internet radio, like podcasting, is a medium that got a big initial splash and then settled into a slower pace of growth than some of the insanely fast-growing technologies of this era, such as the DVD, TiVo and satellite radio. But like all of these newfangled media, Internet radio is booming among the 34-and-under crowd. Still, it's something that most users are just playing around with; it's clearly not doing traditional over-the-air radio stations much good--usage of their online streaming is low and growing only modestly. This could have something to do with the fact that most broadcast radio stations, as the common phrase has it, suck.

Also interesting: Almost half of those who buy music online listen to their audio files more often on their computer than on a portable player such as an iPod.

Finally, who are these heavy on-demand media consumers? We're disproportionately male, black, affluent, and in the 25-44 age range.

What does it all mean? Advertising-supported media are in a bit of a panic, because it's clear that Americans are eagerly taking advantage of any technology that allows time-shifting and the ability to skip ads. So we'll see ever more advertising insinuating itself into the content that we've decided to watch without ads. And the popular culture will become ever more atomized and disparate, which is both good (more opportunities for high quality fare to find an audience) and bad (it will become much harder to create and maintain a civil society with shared values and knowledge.)

But enough of this--you're a heavy on-demand media consumer, and you're demanding something else. Go, forage in the electronic wilds.

By Marc Fisher |  May 26, 2006; 7:26 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Heavy on-demand media customer? Not me! I only have one computer at home. No cell phone or iPod. TV is my main source of information/entertainment and it's located in my...ready for this?'s located in my living room! And, sorry tech world, I don't even have a DVD player! I have a good ole VHS player.

Posted by: 41y/oww | May 26, 2006 8:25 AM

Hmm. I would have said the biggest reason for on-demand cable vs. internet video begins with C and ends with ouch. How many of those computer-owning households own laptops rather than the more traditional computer? How do you want to see a movie--bolt upright at a desk, or flopped out on the sofa.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 8:49 AM

Welcome to the club pal!, one 2 y/o desktop computer with high speed internet, still thinking to replace my 27" CRT with a 32" LCD-HD TV, I also have a VCR and can play a good DVD on my PC, that's all. My cell phone is for family and emergencies only, nothing fancy.

I can multitask at work, no problem, but at home I have a family and a life to take care of.

Posted by: Another 41 y/o | May 26, 2006 9:31 AM

With more computers/laptops coming with graphics cards that have TV output and more devices that stream media to TVs, expect more and more people to watch their downloaded movies on a TV.

Posted by: tallbear | May 26, 2006 9:31 AM

At first, I was very very hesitant to buy an iPod. Too costly, I said. When I made some extra money, I decided to buy one. I love it. Best purchase made in a long time. However, Apple does rip off the consumer still. The battery life is poor. It has many mechanical problems. It automatically recharges when you USB it to download music, ruining the battery life, and the car-radio transmitters all stink.

However, it still was a good purchase. They should lower the price by 100 bucks though because the problems associated with the unit make it less valuable.

Posted by: Dan | May 26, 2006 9:39 AM

If you're too dim to know if your cable installation offers on-Demand video, doesn't that also mean you're not literate enough to continue writing a column for the Post? I don't want to be mean, but really. Get off the couch and look.

Posted by: Don | May 26, 2006 10:05 AM

"Finally, who are these heavy on-demand media consumers? We're disproportionately male, BLACK, affluent, and in the 25-44 age range."

This seems like a typo that less white people than black people are heavy on-demand consumers just due to the general trend of affluence. If this isn't a typo, did the report explain why Black consumers are disproportionately heavy users?

Posted by: Bob | May 26, 2006 10:14 AM

"Get off the couch and look."
That made me laugh! Marc's probably hiding behind the couch, not sitting on it.

Posted by: 41y/oww | May 26, 2006 10:41 AM

I use on-demand to see whatever HBO and SHO series episodes I missed (in other words, just the 'free' stuff Comcast makes available to subscribers). I bought a 30GB iPod (which I love) and loaded it with my entire CD collection which only took up 5GB at (Higher quality)192 kbps. The other 25 GB will be for my entire vinyl collection (as soon as I find an efficient way to digitize it).

Posted by: Jeff | May 26, 2006 10:43 AM

To some extent, I feel that I want to learn about and use these technologies just so that I'll know how to use them! Since I don't have children, I won't have grandchildren around to help me navigate the technological world when I get older. So I want to keep myself up to date, both for whatever practical value doing so might have and because I want to stay connected to the culture.

That said, there are lots of things I'm clueless about, but less so than lots of my 56-year-old agemates.

Posted by: THS | May 26, 2006 11:07 AM

I agree w/ Dan re the liabilities of the transmitters used to make it possible to use iPods in cars. Having them is better than not, but only just.

Of course, they are an aftermarket, add-on idea, but a technologically simple way to make iPods more car travel friendly would, I think, be a big seller.

I know that some cars are making it possible to integrate them w/ the car's sound system. I like that idea, but wonder about how well it can work in the long run. The technology for carrying music around is likely to change more often than we get new cars, so those "marriages" are not likely to last.

Would be interested in hearing from people who know more about the latest technology in this area.

Posted by: BJH | May 26, 2006 11:14 AM

Time-shifting technologies are the best. I LOVE being able to watch TV w/o the commercials and whenever it's convenient for me. Definitely worth the money I pay to add this capacity to my cable bill.

Posted by: Can Watch When I Want | May 26, 2006 11:17 AM

Hard to believe it's access to porn that prompts people to watch movies via cable more often that via Internet. Isn't downloading porn one of the most frequent uses of the Internet?

Posted by: JustCurious | May 26, 2006 11:26 AM

Bob--No, it's not a typo: This survey, like many others of media use, finds that black Americans are disproportionately heavy media users, regardless of income level. Blacks are also disproportionately early adopters of new technologies.

JustCurious--Yes, porn is always at the top of the charts on web use, but this contrast gets back to the point about location in the house. Most households have a TV in the bedroom, whereas computers tend to be in more public parts of the house; that's one reason industry analysts believe on-demand porn via cable is still doing so well.

Posted by: Fisher | May 26, 2006 1:01 PM

ipods are ok for podcasts and those situations when you want music but don't have access to a real stereo but compressed music ain't that great. Using it for a home stereo means you don't really appreciate music, IMO, unless it's your only alternative.

Posted by: Jay | May 26, 2006 4:36 PM

I held off on buying an FM transmitter for my iPod to use in the car until I heard about the Griffin RoadTrip. This thing is so easy to set up an idiot (like me) could do it late at night while half-asleep (I have young twins).

The only problem is you still need to find an unused FM frequency, which is difficult inside the Beltway. Everywhere else, though, it's not a problem, and now I have my entire CD collection available in the car.

The loser, of course, is local radio, which increasingly blows, anyway.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | May 26, 2006 5:20 PM

Streaming radio may also be hitting the wall due to employers placing Internet usage constraints on their employees. I'm not sure I'd want to listen to regular FM stations' programming anyway, but I'd like to be able to utilize the feature of my Sirius subscription that allows web usage. However, we are blocked both technically and by policy from using pretty much any kind of streaming media. I understand the reasons why, but I'm just pointing out the phenomenon.

Posted by: Ron | May 26, 2006 7:06 PM

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