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April 15, 2019

Digital Media: A Love/Hate Story

In past issues of Media Matters, as well as in our Dimensions reports, we’ve devoted a good deal of time to discussing how much time people spend with digital media, pointing out that in most research, TV still comes out on top. However, none of our commentary has touched on the emotional component of digital media. That is, how we love it. We carry it close to us, check on it often, and feel strange and somehow bereft when we forget our phones. But we also hate it. We talk about establishing boundaries on how we use it, cutting back on it or even giving it up. It’s not good for us, but we can’t say no; it’s the proverbial bad boyfriend/girlfriend of media. And let’s face it, you just don’t hear people say the same thing about other media: I can’t help myself, but I keep going back to the TV and flipping it on, just to check in or I installed an app (see?) that tracks how much time I spend reading magazines because it’s just gotten out of hand.

A case in point was data included in the Dentsu Aegis Network’s report, Human Needs in a Digital World, which is drawn from their Digital Society Index Survey 2018, which surveyed over 43,000 people across 23 countries, regarding how digital media serves the needs—economic, societal, psychological, etc.—of respondents. Although much is covered in this report, we wanted to point out two key datasets. First, a notable proportion of people are limiting their online presence. For example, 44% have “taken steps to reduce the amount of data you share online,” 36% chose “to buy a product in-store rather than online” and 21% have “actively limited the amount of time you’re spending online or looking at your smartphone.” Not a majority of respondents by any means, but certainly indicative of the degree of consideration people give to their digital use. It’s personal.

The second point speaks to the love/hate relationship we have with this medium. According to Dentsu’s report, people who have installed ad blockers in the past year (that is, taken action to control their digital environment) are actually more likely to use digital products and services this year than in the past year, compared to those who did not install an ad blocker in the past year:

So, what we see here is self-regulation and/or taking control of one’s digital experiences coinciding with an expected or intended increase in the use of the medium. Looks like the bad boyfriend/girlfriend is sticking around for another year.

But where does this leave advertisers, particularly because much of the action people are taking online involves reducing the amount of personal data shared online and the use of ad blockers to control the digital experience? It seems to us that navigating the line between love and hate that people have with digital media is key; nurture the personal, emotional connection with digital media, but don’t get too handsy or intrusive in execution. It’s not an answer, but perhaps it’s a start.

Top 10 Lists and the Connection Between Digital and Traditional Media

As we all know, the Internet has a seemingly infinite number of sites serving every interest, but there is a great deal of commonality among the top sites consumers favor. We took a look at YouGov’s “Most Popular Websites/Online Services” (popularity is defined as “having a positive opinion of”), based on surveys conducted among their two million member U.S. panel. Their most recent findings are as follows:
                                                              Most Popular Websites/Online Services

                                                                For All U.S. Respondents

                                                                1. Amazon

                                                                2. YouTube

                                                                3. Google

                                                                4. Amazon Prime

                                                                5. Gmail

                                                                6. Wikipedia

                                                                7. Ebay

                                                                8. WebMd

                                                                9. Merriam-Webster

                                                                10. Pandora

The results are unsurprising, with all of the “majors” represented. Amazon tops the list, dominating consumer’s online shopping, while YouTube continues to attract viewers with its endless cat videos, influencer channels and so on, and Pandora retains its hold on music streaming. Reference, email and search round out the top 10. Of course, “having a positive opinion” of a site doesn’t necessarily translate to time spent or pages visited, so we took a look at SimilarWeb’s rankings based on these criteria and, once we eliminated the three porn sites that made the top 10 (!), the results dovetailed nicely with YouGov’s findings.

What was noteworthy about YouGov’s findings is that they are consistent across sex and age. YouGov breaks its findings down by sex and generation, and only one or two variations were found for each group’s top 10:

                                                                Men: AccuWeather

                                                                Women: Pinterest and Facebook

                                                                Millennials: Spotify and Google Photos

                                                                GenX: Yahoo!

                                                                Baby Boomers: Mapquest


This puts us in mind of traditional media. With television, much attention (and awards) are given to the more selective cable channels, but it’s the major broadcast networks, mass appeal cable channels (e.g. USA) and news channels that capture a larger proportion of viewership. Going back further, mass-appeal magazines like Life once dominated, and even now, we see magazines like People, National Geographic, and Reader’s Digest still ranking high in terms of average monthly audience (per the MPA). So, it seems that digital may be the “new” medium, but in some ways it functions much like a traditional one.




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