Digital media consumption is eating our time

By James Robinson , written on February 10, 2014

From The News Desk

Today’s digital consumer is a terrifying, distracted content monster that knows no saturation point. At least that’s one takeaway from Nielsen’s new Digital Consumer Report it released this morning, a detailed amalgamation of research produced from twelve of its regular company surveys into our media consumption.

Digital media use took another 17 minutes from each of us in 2013. Taken over the full year, that equates to an extra four days plugged into our devices. Just when we thought we needed to detox a little from the digital realm, we went in and re-upped at a higher level.

Nielsen’s finding that we’re spending over an hour less each week tied to a desktop computer and watching live TV is not surprising. Today the idea that you have to be in front of a screen at a set time of the week to watch anything is as laughably old fashioned as an old rotary phone.

But we’re not using this gain in time to get out and smell the flowers. The average digital media consumer spent about two and a half hours more on their smartphones, according to Nielsen.

As has been repeated ad nauseam, we’re becoming rapidly more mobile in how we consume our media. But for every one hour of traditional media consumption we’re being saved, the mobile platform is taking two in return. And with almost half of the audience plugged into a second screen - 84 percent of people with a smartphone or tablet are on them while watching something else - it makes the traditionalist in you wonder if the whole thing is degrading the viewer experience and appreciation.

We all have a myriad of ways to connect now. The average American household has four digital devices. A high definition TV was the most ubiquitous of these, in 83 percent of homes, closely followed by a computer in 80 percent, smartphones in 66 percent and digital video recorders and gaming consoles in nearly half.

Smartphone use in American households tripled between 2009 and 2013. HDTV’s are in twice as many homes. Digital video recorders are in half of all homes compared with a third four years ago. Tablets are in 30 percent of all households now, up from just five percent.

Things are changing quickly but the wonderful toys of old are fast becoming old news. DVD players backslid by 7 percent between 2009 and 2013. The number of American homes with an Internet-connect computer is comparatively stagnant, likewise the presence of gaming consoles.

Nielsen’s statistics on social media use will be fuel for anyone wanting to cluck about its destructive influence. Social media is not a sometimes thing anymore. Almost two-thirds of people on social platforms are there daily. The size of the mobile audience appreciated markedly in 2013, as did the areas of our lives where we’re comfortable logging in. Forty percent of 18-24 year olds use social media in the bathroom and 44 percent of them use social media sitting at the table in a restaurant. But the warning signs ricochet through different demographics. Nielsen found that almost half of mothers with young children checked into social media platforms while in the car with their kids. And the more you earn, the more likely you are to be on Facebook at work.

Whether the changes are good, bad or just different is a subjective gut check on how you feel about the invasion of digital media into every area of our life.

What is for sure though is that we're moving away from old-media touch points while consuming media at higher and higher rates. We've never been more reachable, round the clock. So, what's bad for the sociologist is great for the marketer, I guess.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]