Web’s days as the ‘information superhighway’ are long gone

The Internet: That’s Entertainment

June 1, 2010

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Remember when the Internet was the “information superhighway,” putting the world’s knowledge at your fingertips? Now, consumers are as likely to regard it as an entertainment medium. A survey released this month by Edelman examines some of the implications of this transformation for the ways in which consumers regard entertainment more broadly — including the factors they value and are inclined to pay for.

When asked, “What sources of entertainment do you turn to most often?” 32 percent of U.S. respondents cited the Internet. That put it second only to TV (58 percent), with movies (28 percent), radio (17 percent) and music/CDs (14 percent) drawing fewer votes. (Conducted in March among 18-54-year-olds, the survey was also fielded in Britain, but the data referred to in this story is for the U.S. only.)

Social-networking sites are clearly a significant element in this phenomenon for Americans. When asked whether they “consider social-networking sites to be a form of entertainment,” 58 percent said they do, vs. 36 percent saying they don’t and the rest unsure. Among 18-24-year-olds, 73 percent classified social networking sites as an entertainment source.

REDEFINING ENTERTAINMENT
Remarking on consumers’ inclusion of social networking among what they regard as entertainment sources, Gail Becker, president of Edelman’s Western region, says, “The definition of entertainment has gotten broader,” especially for young adults. She sees this reflecting “a great democratization of entertainment,” with consumers deriving it from fellow consumers (including the friends and relatives on their social networking sites) and no longer solely in a top-down manner from the professional entertainment industry.

The survey points to an intriguing implication of this development: When consumers think of the Internet as one of their main entertainment venues, it gets a ranking in their minds for the value it provides them relative to other entertainment sources. One part of the survey asked respondents to say whether a half-dozen sources “provide excellent, very good, good, fair or poor value in entertainment.” The highest excellent/very good vote (40 percent) went to “social networking sites,” putting that category ahead of “film producers/movie studios” (37 percent), “music companies” (34 percent), “gaming companies” (32 percent), “cable television providers” (32 percent) and “satellite television providers” (31 percent).

Becker notes that social networking’s strong showing doesn’t necessarily reflect a calculus solely of value for money. “It could be associated with the investment of time consumers have to make to get value from a site,” she says.

WHAT MATTERS WHEN BUYING
Edelman also sought to identify the factors that matter most to consumers when they’re buying entertainment. Eighty-seven percent rated “my personal enjoyment of the entertainment” as extremely or somewhat important, putting it atop the hierarchy of considerations. Close behind were “excellent visual or sound quality of the entertainment” (86 percent), “being able to purchase the entertainment easily” (83 percent), “the hours of enjoyment the entertainment will provide” (81 percent) and “being able to access the entertainment immediately” (80 percent).

Fewer respondents attached such importance to “the number of devices with which I can access the entertainment” (65 percent), “having unrestricted ability to share or make copies of the entertainment legally” (53 percent) or “popularity of the entertainment” (50 percent). And it seems that not everyone cares about being the first on his or her block to get hold of something in this sector, as fewer still (41 percent) cited “being one of the first to have new entertainment.”

While consumers may not be enamored of the ads that accompany (and sometimes interrupt) their entertainment content, many are willing to encounter advertising if that’s the trade-off entailed in being entertained without paying for it. When the survey asked consumers which of a number of things they’d “be willing to sacrifice in order to get your entertainment for free,” the highest number of votes (47 percent) went to “advertisement-free entertainment.”

UNWILLING TO TRADE OFF PRIVACY
Also high on the willing-to-sacrifice list were “the ability to share the entertainment” (43 percent) and “the ability to access the entertainment on multiple devices” (40 percent). At the very bottom of the list of things people would sacrifice in order to get entertainment for free (chosen by just 13 percent) was “privacy of my personal information.”

Becker notes the irony of this last finding, given the amount of personal information people blithely post on social-networking sites. The problem seems to lie in explicitly making privacy part of a trade-off. “When you link it to getting entertainment,” says Becker, “there’s not the same willingness.”

Anyhow, it’s not as though people are unwilling to use plain old money (rather than their personal privacy) as the currency with which they purchase entertainment. Four in 10 respondents said they “personally spend” more than $50 on buying entertainment in “a typical month,” including 12 percent who spend $76-100 and another 12 percent who spend more than $100.

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