Trends and substitution between media platforms

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by: David Jennings

Tell me if I'm misinterpreting this graph (based on an Ofcom report, via a BBC news story), but I think it's saying that the time young people spend on the net comes particularly at the expense of time they might otherwise have spent on print media (magazines, local and national newspapers). Conversely the time middle-aged people spend on the net is being subtracted most from the time they used to spend on television.

Put another way, could you say that TV retains some appeal to younger people while the middle-aged are turning it off. And they are still using print to a fair degree, a habit which many 15-24 year olds today have possibly never developed.

When you start thinking about the net 'substituting' for consumption that the new generations have never experienced, you realise that the terminology of substitution actually has limited shelf-life. Does my net use substitute for radio, TV and newspapers. I spend much less time in front of the TV, and I buy newspapers less often — but I was never a big consumer of either. I'm sure I read more from UK newspapers, and from US ones, than I did ten years ago: I just read them online (and I never go through the 'front page'; I always follow deep links into specific newspaper articles). I also watch some TV content online, though probably less than I used to, because I'm only drawn to the content that really needs video representation, and I'm realising how little of that there is.

I also listen to much more radio than I did ten years ago. Here the designation of substitution seems particularly arbitrary: my decision as to whether I listen online or via an 'old fashioned' radio comes down simply to which one is nearer to hand at the time I decide to listen. There are some new classifications of 'radio' like and Pandora that are only available online, of course. But even if you take these out of the picture, my radio listening has still gone up significantly.

Original Post:

Interestingly, and notwithstanding the chart above, which appears to show a 6% reduction in consumption of radio, the Ofcom report says radio listening is not in decline overall, but static or very slightly up. I keep harping on about this because so many people, particularly those who know the US figures and the US experience, seem to treat the terminal decline of radio as a fait accompli. To avoid misrepresentation, I quote Ofcom directly:

Listening has risen by 3% over the last five years. National commercial [with ads] and BBC [no ads, except those for other BBC programming] radio picked up listener hours across most age groups; by contrast, local commercial radio suffered losses, particularly among 25-34 year olds (down 30%).

Note: Ofcom is the UK's telecoms and media regulator (similar to the US's FCC). The research in their report was done earlier this year, and combined several wide-ranging methods.