It’s official: we’re mainstream

If you are reading this blog (hello!), have a profile on a social networking site (like Facebook or MySpace), check out other people's profiles on social networking sites and spend at least 10 hours on the internet every week, you're part of what is officially considered the 'mainstream' by research company Nielsen Online.

On the other hand, if you upload photos or video to a third party web site (i.e. not your own site) or Twitter, then you're still amongst the minority. According to Nielsen Online, Twitter use among Aussies is relatively low compared to other nationalities – 44% of all Twitter users have only been using the service since October last year. (That number may well have jumped this week, when a mainstream TV current affairs show did a story on Twitter… unfortunately I can't remember if it was A Current Affair or the 7.30 Report and, of course, one of the annoying things about analog television is that you can't easily search it on the internet – try Googling "Twitter story" + "A Current Affair" and be prepared to get swamped.)

Nielsen Online's Internet and Technology Report is based on self-reported media consumption weekly averages, based on 2,046 surveys representing a "random stratified sample representative of Australia by state, age and gender". The full report costs big $$ but fortunately the folk at Nielsen publicity in Australia have released a number of media releases about the findings and you can download a couple of summary reports for free, once you have registered on the Nielsen site.

After reading through these media releases and summary reports, here are some of the topline findings that interested me most:
  • 84% of internet users in Australia now have broadband at home
  • Aussies spend an average of 16.1 hours per week online (4.6 hours of that time watching online/downloaded videos), although this has been disputed by Roy Morgan Research (see below)
  • 61% of us watch TV at the same time we're online, although our primary focus is on the "lean forward" screen (AKA the internet)
  • 59.9% of Australians visit online social networking sites and blogs (a little behind the global figure of 67%)  
  • 6.5 million Australians belong to an online social network, with about one-third having more than one profile 
  • 57% of Australian internet users published their opinions online last year 
  • Australians spend, on average, almost three hours per month on Facebook 
  • The biggest increase in visitors to "member community" web sites globally was among 35 to 49 year olds. 

These findings are all very interesting, but can we be confident they're accurate?

I have just written an article about this very topic for the upcoming edition of Research News (published on 3 April).

In this article, I discuss the fact that roughly this time last year, Roy Morgan launched an attack on Nielsen Online’s Internet & Technology Report, which claimed that, for the first time, Australians were spending more time online than watching television.

Following the release of 2008 findings from both companies this month (Roy Morgan Research figures are based on a survey of 20,865 Australians), Roy Morgan has challenged Nielsen Online again. According to Nielsen Online, the average Australian was spending 16.1 hours online last year versus 12.9 hours in front of the TV. 

Roy Morgan Research director of media services, William Burlace says: ‘As Nielsen use an online panel, their results are obviously skewed because their sample will be over-represented with heavy internet users.’

Roy Morgan Research say its figures show that TV remains the most-used medium, with Australians spending on average 21.5 hours per week in front of their televisions. Radio remains the second most popular medium with people listening for an average of 14.2 hours per week, while the internet comes third with an average of 10.7 hours per week. 

Analysis of the Roy Morgan data by age does reveal nuances. The internet is the "number two medium" for those under 35 (while those over 35 are more likely to listen to the radio than spend time on the internet). Roy Morgan Research argues that the only Australians who are spending, on average, a greater amount of time with the internet than television are 14 to 24 year old "heavy" internet users (those who log on more than eight times per week). 

Nielsen Online managing director Megan Clarken, however, says Roy Morgan ‘misunderstood’ Nielsen Online’s research. ‘Our research was based on the activities of Australian internet users, not the general population. If you read the report correctly, you’ll get the same numbers as Roy Morgan,’ she says.

This is true… sort of. While the average hours spent online are somewhat similar, the average hours Roy Morgan's sample spend watching TV is significantly higher than that reported by Nielsen.


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