Section 1: User Behaviour, Preferences and Concerns
User attention is focused on key devices, platforms and formats
What are the dimensions of digital media usage and how are consumption patterns changing?
Global internet penetration is deepening, with more than 3 billion internet users in 2015. Global Social Media Trends 2015, a report from the European Publishers Council, counts more than 2 billion active social media accounts and more than 1.6 billion mobile social accounts in 2015 (Figure 1).6 People spend more time online, extensively using social media and increasingly accessing digital media from mobile devices. This is especially so in emerging countries, which are leapfrogging fixed internet and personal computers (PCs) to go directly to smartphones.
Currently, access to digital media from laptops and desktops is still dominant globally, with roughly 60% of all web pages being viewed from laptops or desktops, and 30% from mobile devices (Figure 2). But mobile viewing is growing fast, especially in emerging countries.7 Tablets and other devices still represent a small share in comparison, but a trend is evolving of using multiple devices simultaneously, with content being consumed via numerous channels.8
Respondents to the Implications of Digital Media Survey are most frequently using PC/laptops (94%), televisions or TVs (93%) and smartphones (87%) for media consumption (Table 2a). Among heavy digital media users (14-plus hours/week), PC/laptop strongly dominates other types of devices, most likely because it is still the most important device used at home and for work, at least in developed countries
Traditional media (e.g. printed press and magazines, TV and radio) have a dwindling share of media consumption, already accounting for less than one-half of time spent, according to a 2014 statistic from GlobalWebIndex, a market research firm (Figure 3). On average, people spent more than three hours a day social networking and (micro-)blogging.
Online communication platforms, such as social networking platforms and messaging services, play an important role in media content and advertising distribution. Content is posted or shared via news feeds or discussion threads or increasingly within private groups in messaging applications.
“Things that started out as communication platforms have become real-time media consumption platforms; content that feels like a conversation is being consumed in video and text combined, and is accessible on smartphones.”
Participant at project workshop in New York in May 2015
Why are online communication platforms so popular? The reasons: most users do not pay per message but through mobile plans; they are easy and convenient to use; and while feeds make it possible to always be up-to-date and discover content, messaging applications allow private, more targeted group conversations and content exchange.
The Implications of Digital Media Survey found that 21% of users report spending more than three hours per day chatting and messaging (Table 3). Most popular platforms used for social networking vary across the countries surveyed (Figure 4): WhatsApp is the most visited social networking site in South Africa and is No 2 in Germany and Brazil, just behind Facebook. In the USA, however, Facebook is by far the most used platform, with more than half of respondents visiting the site daily. In China, WeChat dominates the other social networking sites listed in terms of daily usage. Finally, Brazil respondents are heavier users of all the social networking sites included in the survey compared with those from other countries. Given the continued introduction of new apps, changes in preferred platforms are likely over time.
“People used to watch TV and then that’s it. But now, everything is consumed on different mediums. Three out of five people surf the internet, or WeChat in the case of China, while they watch TV. Divided attention is the trend.”
Yan Xuan, Nielsen Greater China
The so-called Millennials, or Generation Y (born in the 1980s and 1990s) and Generation Z (born in the 2000s) were the first generations to grow up with computers, the internet and smartphones as integral parts of their everyday lives. These “digital natives” spend on average more than seven hours a day online, on their smartphones or on multiple devices at the same time (PC, laptop, tablet and wearables).10 Those aged 16-24 years are three times as likely as those aged 55-64 years to “second-screen” on a mobile.11 They consume far more digital than physical media (e.g. printed newspapers/books, DVDs and PC games).
The Implications of Digital Media Surevy showed that 30% of Millennials spent more than three hours a day chatting/messaging, compared with 20% of Generation X (born in the late 1960s and 1970s) and 15% of Baby Boomers (born in the late 1940s to early 1960s). Similar generational differences were observed for consuming music, short videos and gaming. But Millennials also reported spending more time using digital media to search for information related to interests or personal development. Still, the numbers show that even generations not “born into” the digital age are adapting to it.
The frequent user is most likely to be young, male, well educated, and have one child:
Figure 5 shows that Millennials are more likely to be frequent users (making up 47% of frequent users, compared with 40% of the total sample), while Baby Boomers are more likely to be sporadic users (36% of sporadic users, compared with 29% of the total sample). Almost 60% of frequent users are male, but only 46% of sporadic users (compared with 52% of total sample). Frequent users are more likely to have an undergraduate or graduate degree (57% of frequent users, compared with 45% of the total sample). More than one-half of sporadic users do not have children (54%, compared with 43% of total sample), while frequent users are most likely to have one child (44%, compared with 35% of total sample).
Users consume, share and engage in content in order to fulfil a need for social interaction, entertainment and learning
The emerging digital media user is more active. While traditional media is consumed largely passively, consumers now have enhanced opportunities to share content, engage with content creators, participate in content or even facilitate or sponsor content creation.
“Consumers have a lot more agency. They are no longer just passive receivers of goods, services and content.”
Jeremy Heimans, purpose.com
So why do consumers use digital media the way they do? UM’s Wave 8, a social media research study, suggests that people are drawn to digital media offerings that fulfil five fundamental needs underpinning all social behaviour:12
- Social interaction (e.g. chatting, messaging, sharing images and videos, building relationships)
- Expression/recognition (e.g. expressing oneself, earning respect, supporting a cause)
- Entertainment/diversion (e.g. having fun, relaxing, being creative, indulging in a passion/interest)
- Information/learning (e.g. learning something new, useful or surprising, getting practical advice, exploring or researching something)
- Work/progression (e.g. working, building a career, challenging oneself)
The Implications of Digital Media Survey found that users spend the most time connected online for work (32% spend more than 3 hours a day online for this purpose) and information or learning, followed by social interaction and diversion purposes (Table 3).
For each of these purposes, private and professional digital media consumption has become less separated. Younger generations in particular expect to be able to interrupt work to organize private matters while also replying to emails on their smartphones even after working hours.
Sharing content has become a very important element of using digital media. The Wave 8 study observes, “Sharing content has become a fundamental part of our self-expression and has become intrinsically linked with our online reputation. People use content, be it a YouTube clip or interesting article, as a way to keep in touch, make new friends or impress others”.13 Participants in the Implications of Digital Media Survey are most likely to share content that is entertaining (46%), contains useful facts (43%) or is inspiring (36%) (Table 4).
“People want what they’ve always wanted: storytelling. What has changed is how you do that. HBO’s television dramas with their short seasons are powerful examples of how this demand is being met. Likewise, long movies in cinemas targeting the over-35s are a growth market. Instagram is also storytelling. Twitter is essentially iterative storytelling.”
Participant at project workshop in New York in May 2015
What types of content are users most likely to share? Research has found that video content that is humorous or stimulates deep emotions (such as fear, sadness, surprise, and joy) generally does better than other types.14 A study about content by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania had a similar finding: a strong emotional response to content – whether positive or negative – tends to promote sharing. Content with a positive emotional impact is more likely to be shared than one that has a negative impact; content that produced anger and anxiety is more likely to be shared than one producing sadness.15
The Wave 8 study also investigated motivations for sharing content: when people share inspiring content they do so to express their creativity and to learn; when they share controversial content, they are trying to seek opinion. Promoting a cause helps people to belong, change opinions and earn respect (see Figure 6).
How content goes viral is an interesting phenomenon. Pulsar found that different types of content spread differently across social media platforms, depending on audience structure.16 For example, a YouTube video titled “Commander Hadfield singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity”, from the International Space Station, spread mainly from one big hub, while a grass-roots video of protests in Turkey was shared by many smaller influencer groups (Figure 7).
Sharing content also seems to depend on its efficacy in helping users to build their online reputations. As the Wave 8 study emphasizes, digital media has helped launch a new reputation economy in which “personal success and reputation have become indelibly linked”. Thus, content that reflects well on an individual or helps to promote a personal “brand” is most likely to be shared: useful facts or research; novel or unexpected ideas and execution; entertaining or inspiring content; expressions of the user’s point of view; and content that has been “liked” by relevant others. The importance of reputation building can be discerned in users’ reported reactions to how the content they share is received by others. More than one-half of respondents in the Wave 8 study said they feel happy “when something they share is commented on, liked or shared with others”, and they are likely to actually “delete posts and tweets that have received no recognition from peers”.17
Digital media also has made it possible for millions of media consumers to participate in content, mainly through the creation process. They do it for many reasons. Participants in the Implications of Digital Media Survey reported being most likely to create content, such as blog posts or videos, to express their points of view (47%), provide useful facts (37%) or entertain (35%) (Table 5). One-third of respondents stated that they post written content, pictures or videos on social media sites a few times per week; 10% of them do it every day. According to a report by Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, almost one-third of adults online in the USA posted a video to a website in 2013, up from 14% in 2009.18
Some of this content creation is fuelled by the desire to become actively engaged with an admired entity. Enabled by the internet, fans with an emotional attachment to the focus of their ardour – a sports team, celebrity or artist – now have the opportunity to consume content related to that admired subject and to share that content or create their own, thereby engaging with it and/or the larger community of fans. These motivated content participants – labelled an “active audience” by Jose van Dijck – are the main leaders in sharing, creating and producing new content on social media.19
Also interesting is the communal spirit in which much of today’s content is created. YouTube has a significant number “how-to” video posts, produced not necessarily by companies promoting their products or services, but by individuals eager to share their knowledge with the online community. Likewise, the tremendous amount of information available on Wikipedia and other open content publishing sites is the result of countless individuals contributing labour and knowledge, often without expecting payment.
The growth of content sharing through social media creates a “collective experience” and a state of virtual collective consciousness among digital media consumers, with shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes.2021 For example, trust in brands is now being heavily influenced by shared user experiences.22 The more these experiences are shared through digital media, the more consumers are vulnerable to views, opinions and thinking that are not their own. This may result in group-thinking and could suppress individualism. For example, users are more likely to consume content that has been previously accessed and recommended by others (e.g. YouTube videos that go viral). Many of today’s buying decisions are made on the collective knowledge/experience shared by others (e.g. Amazon book reviews).
Consumer trust at risk
The continuous innovation in digital media, and the rapid way it has changed business practices and user behaviour, creates unprecedented opportunities for the MEI industry. But as these opportunities mature, consumer trust becomes ever more critical. This report’s research reveals that fundamental concerns about truth, integrity and security are placing consumer trust at risk:
- Truth: Given the sheer volume of digital content, trust hangs in the balance because of the difficulty in validating truthfulness and the increased ability of users to challenge the veracity of content.
- Integrity and the fair value proposition: Trust in companies is at stake and digital media consumers are demanding protection for user rights.
- Security: Consumers fear that their data are not adequately protected. They value and demand more transparency and control over their personal data and digital identities.
Addressing these challenges is essential for the continued health of the MEI industry.
1. Truth: With more and more content available, consumers are searching for trusted sources of digital media content
“There are now more tools at people’s disposal to do professional filming. The barriers of entry are so much lower. It’s up to the voice of the user. What you couldn’t do at the top studios 10 years ago, you can now do for free.”
Participant at project workshop in New York in May 2015
Innovations in digital media have lowered barriers to content creation. Today, anyone can create and publish content; it is no longer the sole purview of professional content producers such as journalists. This is allowing more voices to be heard and empowering users to not just express themselves but also to choose among diverse content.
This “democratization” of content creates increased quality control issues. In the digital age, almost any citizen can be a journalist, but maintaining journalistic standards is today a major challenge for the industry. Although content can now be more easily challenged and verified, in many cases, content creators and consumers do not adequately vet sources. Lack of professional editing, and the time pressure to publish content quickly, also create quality problems. The ease of creation has increased the risk of unethical online behaviour, with the posting and sharing of content designed to deceive, defame or misinform. However, users are better equipped to use digital media platforms to draw attention to misinformation, challenge myths and educate others.
The large amount of content available has made curating and distributing a much bigger challenge. Users themselves have become an important mechanism for distribution. Rather than rely on the judgement of editors or decision-makers in the traditional media ecosystem, many users today are choosing to obtain more content from their social and professional networks, or to rely on others for reviews or recommendations. In particular, entry barriers to publishing become lower, while creators still rely on professional support for larger scale publishing.
According to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, search engines are now the most trusted source of content for users, especially Millennials, while journalists are trusted less than family and friends. The trend towards a “collective experience”, as described in the previous section, is also a result of the digital media user’s dependency on seeking truth from groups of other users.
“I don’t need to believe in anything anymore because it has a user rating of 4.6. So the whole notion of trust is now earned largely by collective experience rather than the symbols of faith.”
Sanjay Nazerali, Dentsu Aegis Network
The Implications of Digital Media Survey has similar findings. A user’s spouse and friends (each chosen by 18% of respondents) have the most influence on digital media consumption), while search engines are selected by 15% as being more influential than any other source (Table 6). Those close to the user could have more insight into the type of content the user might find interesting, certainly more than could an editor or executive in a traditional media company; however, individuals could also receive less diverse information, or others in the user’s network could distribute unverified, harmful or inaccurate content. Interestingly, the survey yielded substantial cross-country differences – especially among those choosing none as the most influential source In the USA, almost one-half of the sample said so, in China only 5%. This underlines the relevance of culturally specific norms, in this case most likely regarding individualism versus collectivism.23
Given today’s immense task of sifting through copious amounts of content in order to decide what to distribute, MEI distributors are turning to artificial intelligence and automation. But, consumer trust depends on the transparency and effectiveness of algorithms to do this job. This trust is at risk as evidence becomes available on how algorithms are structurally biased in the information they present to different users or are ineffective in screening out inaccurate content. If the MEI industry does not innovate in products and services to help users to assess the validity of content sources or to access verified content, consumer trust in the entire MEI ecosystem may be eroded.
2. Integrity and the fair value proposition: Users are willing to pay for products and services that fulfil their needs; the higher the perceived value, the greater the willingness to pay
Because digital media offers more content than can be reasonably consumed, much of it for free, a consumer’s willingness to pay remains a key challenge for industry. Several studies on consumer readiness to pay for Facebook (in exchange for privacy or no advertising), for example, found little appetite for it.24 Inherent to social media’s existence is the exchange of non-monetary value. For Facebook, this is access and use of behavioural information for advertising purposes in exchange for free utilization of a robust social networking tool for the end user. News has also proved difficult to monetize in the digital space; according to Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2015, few of those not already paying would be prepared to pay anything for online news.25
But the idea of consumer reluctance to pay ignores the success of many digital media content providers. As in any marketplace, consumers of digital media are willing to pay for products that fulfil their needs and offer good perceived value.
Digital media users have shown that they see value in, and are willing to pay for:
- Unique and high-quality content, such as that offered by HBO or The New York Times (NYT). The NYT recently surpassed 1 million digital subscribers despite the relative ease of circumventing its paywall.26
- Content that satisfies a burning need, such as Bloomberg’s sale of business information to the trades, or demand in a niche market (professional and hobbies, for example).27
- A unique offering that fills a newly created need or gives consumers the flexibility to buy fragmented content, such as iTunes, which offers songs rather than albums, or Blendle, a Dutch start-up that gives consumers the ability to buy individual newspaper or magazine articles rather than full subscriptions.28
The Implications of Digital Media Survey provided similar insights. In the past year, one-third of respondents had paid for premium entertainment, and one-fifth for specialized, exclusive or educational content that teaches skills or gives access to work (Table 7). Interestingly, those who use digital media the most are more willing to pay for content, with Millennials reporting the greatest appetite – heartening for content providers targeting this important demographic (Figure 8).
At the same time, 41% of total survey respondents do not pay for any of the listed content, highlighting the continuing importance of advertising to finance digital media that is mainly free to the user. A major challenge for the MEI industry will be to counter the current trend in advertising blocking by users. (This is discussed in greater detail later in this report.)
Regardless of how digital media is funded, providing a fair value proposition is critical to maintain consumer trust. To do this could require the MEI industry to rely on advertising that respects user preferences for valued digital media, without the risk of misleading (a possibility with sponsored content) or exploiting the consumer. Exploitation can occur when advertising is based on behavioural data that the user did not consent to sharing. Or it can happen when transparency about the use of one’s personal data is lacking, and the consumer is not offered appropriate benefits in exchange, such as free online services.29
When the value exchange between user and business is perceived to be fair, consumers seem willing to “pay” for digital media content. For example, although it is still technically possible to pirate music, free music-streaming services like Spotify, for which consumers “pay” through their exposure to advertising, are easier for consumers to use, and have helped to cut the incidence of music piracy in the USA by half over the past decade.30
Research by Boston Consulting Group and Liberty Global showed that consumers “are willing, even eager, to share information when they get an appropriate benefit in return”. The research found that educating consumers on the benefits they receive by sharing their data, being transparent about how the data are used, and giving consumers easy-to-use privacy controls “will substantially increase data sharing by individuals”.31
3. Security: As consumers’ digital personae increasingly reflect their online habits and behaviours, digital identities are becoming as important and as worthy of protection as physical personae
The cumulative use of digital media – from online buying, viewing, posting and sharing, to digital profiles created for personal, social, professional or commercial reasons – reveals a tremendous amount about each individual. Yet many users remain unaware that their increased digital engagement results in the accumulation of data from many disparate sources. These traces of personal data can be tagged, tracked, combined and analysed, revealing more intimate information about users than previously imagined.
Digital personae not only determine the content that users are served online, but also influence the schools to which they are admitted, approvals they get for loans or apartments, and the jobs they are offered. They also may have an impact on an individual’s romantic prospects and status within certain communities. In short, users’ digital personae are increasingly important to their social and economic well-being.
For example, many users today see social networks not just as places to connect with others socially but also as engines to create financial benefits. Platform membership can improve professional networking and job prospects, and help people to amass a considerable, profitable following. But even as users want to share their personality online and gain recognition, they also want to safeguard their digital personae and control access. Google’s Transparency Report recently revealed that the search engine has already received almost 350,000 requests from users who want to evoke their “right to be forgotten” after a 2014 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, and has removed almost 60% (more than 600,000) of more than 1.2 million URLs evaluated.32
Building and maintaining consumer trust will depend increasingly on how well MEI businesses address user concerns about security. Among Implications of Digital Media Survey respondents, 69% said that anonymity and privacy in digital media activities is important to them (Table 8) and 25% said that less than half of their social media activity is publicly visible (Table 9). Users fear data breaches which appear to be increasing in scale and frequency. As a result, they are looking to companies for security and transparency about the use and safeguarding of their data. Users also are concerned about how their data are being used to market to them. The majority of respondents to the Implications of Digital Media Survey said that the “right to be forgotten” is important to them (71%), as is having control over their personal data (75%). But only 46% globally are willing to pay for that control (Table 10), with large cross-country differences observed.
Consumers seem reluctant to pay for privacy or control of data, not necessarily because they do not value these attributes, but rather because they view them as already integral to the services they use. Emerging digital media users consider control over their data an inherent right for which they should not need to pay.