Users’ Online Time Spent Mostly on Content – not Communications, Commerce

August 13, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Email | Media & Entertainment | Paid Search | Retail & E-Commerce

Internet users are spending nearly half their online time visiting content – a 37% increase in share of time from four years ago and nearly as much time as spent on communications and commerce combined - according to a four-year analysis of the Internet Activity Index (IAI) issued by the Online Publishers Association (OPA).

The IAI is a monthly gauge of the time that users spend with e-commerce, communications, content and search; it is conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings.

According to OPA’s IAI:

  • Communications accounted for 46% of consumers’ time online in 2003, but a dramatic shift has taken place since then, with consumers now spending 47% of their time with content, compared with 34% four years ago.
  • The 37% gain in share for content is followed closely by a 35% gain in share for search.
  • However, the total time being spent with search remains relatively low, accounting for just 5% of Internet users’ online time in 2007.

“The IAI has identified a very significant and sustained trend in where consumers are spending their online time “The index indicates that, over the last four years, the primary role of the Internet has shifted from communications to content,” OPA President Pam Horan said.


The increase in content’s share of time has been fairly steady in the last several years, growing 10% from 2003 to 2004, remaining even between 2004 and 2005, growing 13% from 2005 to 2006, and growing 13% from 2006 to 2007.

“The dominant role of content is driven by several important factors. The first is the online transition of traditionally offline activities, such as getting news, finding entertainment information or checking the weather. Quality content sites see a consistent pattern – major news drives traffic spikes, but traffic remains consistently higher even after the event,” Horan said.

“New online features and communities are also leading consumers to spend a larger share of their online time with content. Consumers spend considerable time with social-networking sites, which serve not only as places of content but are also increasingly important communications vehicles.”


The OPA found several other important factors behind the changes:

  • A more accessible, and much faster, internet is driving increased overall time spent online.
  • The increased popularity of video is leading to more time being spent with online content.
  • The improvement in search allows consumers to more easily and quickly find the exact content they are looking for, increasing the likelihood they will engage more deeply with that content.
  • The web simply offers far more content than it did even four years ago, increasing content’s share of time.
  • The rise of instant messaging (IM) as a key communications tool has been a factor in communication’s reduction in share of time. IM is a more efficient communications vehicle than email.

About the IAI: OPA’s Internet Activity Index is derived from a categorization of Web properties accounting for more than 90%, on average, of active web users and approximately 55% of total usage time (excludes .gov and .edu Web sites, as well as pornographic domains). The IAI is conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings and is posted online each month.

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