Consumers’ love of media isn’t ending. It’s just that they need a bit of time away. The amount of time the average American spent being entertained, informed or anaesthetized by any form of media shrank last year, according to an annual survey by private equity group Veronis Suhler Stevenson. That reversed a decades-long trend.
This could be just a blip in the data, but there are two reasons to suspect it’s part of a structural shift. First, the rate of growth had slowed the two previous years. Second, there are only 24 hours in the day, and people have other things to do besides ingesting media.
Teenagers may just add a YouTube video to their simultaneous mix of IM chat, Web surfing, television watching and cellphone conversation. The rest of us, however, seem to be using new media to increase efficiency. Adults are increasingly watching short video clips rather than long TV programmes filled with ads. Instead of reading a newspaper, they read a few targeted stories on the Web.
This doesn’t mean doom and gloom for everyone involved in media. Far from it, as total communications spending is still growing about twice as fast as the US economy as a whole. Some groups can push through price increases, especially if they can show improvements to users. For example, consumers are willing to pay more for fast broadband connections. And businesses that can target subsets of users efficiently can charge premium rates—just think of Google.
Another bright spot: employees are somehow finding time to use more media at work. The trend of watching mildly amusing videos at work could have a long way to run.
But there will be pain for some. Newspapers, record companies and radio groups have already suffered the effects of digital disintermediation, as new competitors allow a more direct contact between content-creator and consumer. If a ceiling on total media consumption has now been hit, the pressure on these industries will only intensify.