Consumers Spend Equal Time on the Web, TV

There’s one graph every digital business uses: It shows the huge gap between the percentage of consumer time spent on the Internet and that of marketer budgets spent on online ads. Forrester Research is giving them new ammunition.

A new consumer survey from the researcher found that for the first year, the amount of time U.S. households spent watching TV and using the Internet is equal at 13 hours. This comes on the heels of research showing that younger consumers (18-30) already spent more time on the Web than watching TV. Now, people 31-44 are also spending more time online than with TV.

The figures are at the heart of a running debate about ad-budget allocation. One side is the proposition that marketer priorities are seriously out of whack, because their budgets don’t match up to consumer behavior. Venture capitalist Mary Meeker calls this a “$50 billion opportunity.” Another school of thought is that TV remains by far more important to brand building than the typical Internet options of display ads and search links.

Forrester takes pains to note it’s not predicting the demise of TV. In fact, the amount of time spent watching TV has remained stable over the past five years. During that same time, however, time spent on the Web has risen 121 percent. The biggest losers in comparison to the Web are: radio (down 15 percent), newspapers (down 26 percent) and magazines (down 18 percent).

One important note: While the time spent figures are equal, over a third of the hours on the Web are for work purposes, while TV is nearly exclusively a leisure activity.

Unsurprisingly, Forrester found e-commerce and social media the major drivers of growth over the last three years. E-commerce use rose from 37 percent to 60 percent, while social media went from 15 percent to 35 percent.

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