Britain turns off - and logs on: "More time is now spent on the internet than on watching TV, according to Google survey."
More time is now spent on the internet than on watching TV, according to Google survey
Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent
Wednesday March 8, 2006
We may be known as a nation of couch potatoes, but it seems that Britons are grasping the 21st century with both hands: we now spend more time watching the web than watching television, according to internet giant Google.
A survey conducted on behalf of the search engine found that the average Briton spends around 164 minutes online every day, compared with 148 minutes watching television. That is equivalent to 41 days a year spent surfing the web: more than almost any other activity apart from sleeping and working.
Television addiction has been Britain's national pastime for years, but experts agree that viewers around the country are increasingly switching on their computer screens instead of their TV sets. And it is a phenomenon that is set to grow, with two thirds of respondents in the Google survey saying that they had increased the time spent online in the last year.
"This is not a changing of the guard," said Richard Gregory of Google UK, "but it does show how people think about the place the internet has in their lives."
The research was conducted with a weighted sample of 1,100 people around the country, who were asked to estimate how long they spent on a number of different activities.
The Google survey found surfers in London and Scotland are the country's heaviest web users, spending more than three hours a day online. That was around 40 minutes more each day than those in the lowest category, the north-west of England.
It is a high water mark in the rise of the internet. It is little more than 10 years since the start of the dotcom revolution but already more than 1 billion people around the world are connected to the internet. Television, in contrast, took decades to reach a similar number of people.
Experts say Google's figures are disputable, but that they do mark part of a wider trend towards the broad adoption of the web.
"What has always held the web back has been the technology," said Arash Amel, senior analyst with Screen Digest.
"Now you have another screen in the house. The internet is also used for entertainment other than just web surfing and email. The bandwidth is now several megabits as standard in most homes, and this has opened up the possibilities."
That change is almost certainly a result of increased business connectivity, which allows office workers to surf the web all day. Combined with the increase in high-speed broadband connections at home, the opportunities to get online are far greater than at any previous time.
"It's definitely linked to the increase of broadband penetration and internet access as a whole," said Mr Gregory. "There's a learning curve as people find out how to interact with the web."
Google's claim is contradicted by the latest research from the television audience ratings group Barb, which uses electronic measurement to determine the extent of television viewing. Barb said that in January viewers watched television for an average of almost 238 minutes - nearly four hours a day.
But the assertion is backed up - at least in part - by a recent study from the media watchdog Ofcom that showed how younger audiences are moving away from television.
The report into media literacy, which was published last week, said that television viewing has declined in recent years for the first time in its history. It also said that the "reach" of television - the number of people switching on for at least 15 minutes - had declined by 2.5% among those aged between 25 and 34. The shift is even more marked among younger users, with reach declining by 2.9% among the under-25s over the same period.
As teenagers spend more time on time-intensive activities like blogging and surfing social networking sites like Myspace.com, the reduction of their other media consumption is inevitable.
But industry observers are at pains to point out that TV and the internet are not mutually exclusive. Like radio, which is often played in the background, television watching does not have to be active. In fact, internet users are increasingly using their computers to watch television and video, read web pages and listen to radio simultaneously.
Competition between the different media may not even be a question for younger users, as broadcasters and technology companies move ever closer towards converging with each other.
Sky and BT are among those who have announced plans to deliver TV channels over the internet, following an industry-wide trend towards providing video over the web.
So-called internet protocol television - IPTV - is one of this year's hottest technologies, being pushed by broadcasters, computer firms and consumer electronics companies alike.
"The new generation doesn't have the same attachment to physical products," said Mr Amel. "There are a lot of vested interests in making the PC a central entertainment hub delivering TV, music and movies."
Google, perhaps unsurprisingly, believes that the internet still has a lot more growing to do. "As consumers, we're really just seeing the beginning. The increasing richness of the web means that we're going to spend more and more time on it as time goes on."
Saqib Khan, 16, student
I spend quite a lot of time on the internet. Some days I could be on for hours, but I spend much more time on the internet than watching TV. I'll download music or look at websites about things I'm interested in, like American pit bulls, or coursework for school. It's a lot more useful than TV.
Sarah Chandler, 30, office manager
I'm on the internet all the time. It's essential at work, but it's pretty much a necessity at home too. I do online banking, book any form of travel - trains, flights - and all my holidays on the internet. I probably spend about 90 minutes a day outside of work on the net, which does sound like quite a lot, I suppose. But I don't watch very much television; I'm more of a reader.
Frances McCondochie, 47, nursery manager
I will use the internet for work and to book holidays, but I don't understand people who spend hours on it. I have a friend whose kids are on it from four in the afternoon until 10 at night. They have to book slots to stop any fighting. I'll only use it for half an hour at work. I watch a fair bit of television, around a couple of hours or so a night. I can't see that ever being eclipsed by the internet.
Elizabeth Roberts, 71, retired lecturer
I've been using the internet for at least 10 years now. I use it for at least four hours each day. I do about an hour a day to help my daughter's work and I use it for booking holidays, checking what's on at cinemas, shopping and research. I also use it for my finances, and I send lots of emails as I don't really phone people. Lately I've been spending about two hours a day watching television, because there's not much good on. But I will watch films.