Researchers See Streamed-Media Growth

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Some 35 percent of Americans — consisting of a surprisingly wide range of age groups — have accessed streaming media, according to a new study by Arbitron Inc. and Edison Media Research.

Researchers interviewed more than 2,000 consumers in January and found that 17 percent had streamed content during the previous month and 9 percent had logged on in the week prior.

That's up from 13 percent and 6 percent, respectively, a year ago, according to the study.

Even more surprising was the wide variety of age groups that turned to streamed content. The 25-to-34 age group made up 16 percent of those who had streamed content over the prior month. Teens made up 19 percent of that group, and 16 percent of 18-to-24 year-olds logged on.

Usage was also strong in older age groups. About 19 percent of respondents aged 35 to 44 streamed content, that number fell slightly to 17 percent among 45-to-54 year-olds and even 8 percent of users 55 and older streamed content.

"The notion that streaming is a youth phenomenon is clearly incomplete," said Larry Rosin, president of EMR. About 60 percent of all broadband subscribers are regular streamers, he said.

Much of Arbitron's study focused on audio streaming and radio stations and consumers' willingness to pay. Some 84 percent of respondents said they wouldn't pay for Internet radio, since today's content can be heard for free.

But 43 percent of respondents said they might pay for content they couldn't get anywhere else, and 41 percent said they would consider paying for music without commercials.

On the video side, 19 percent said they would pay for streamed concerts. Paying for professional football games appealed to 11 percent of respondents, while only 7 percent said they would pay for pro and major college basketball games.

Rosin said content providers need to supply "content that is more compelling to improve consumer perception of the Net's entertainment value. Radio, TV and cable owners should maintain their streaming efforts in order to compete online and protect their brands."

Content providers should also consider subscription packages of unique, commercial-free content, Rosin said. "That's the model for [Home Box Office]."

Arbitron also found that the so-called digital divide is narrowing. The number of African-Americans who had access to the Internet jumped from 51 percent to 67 percent from January 2001 to January 2002. And Internet-access penetration among Hispanics rose to 57 percent from 43 percent during the same period.

Broadband providers still face an uphill climb when it comes to demand for high-speed service. Only 14 percent said they had plans to get broadband in the next year, while 60 percent said they had no plans.