Crowning the 'Number One" Online Activity: Change the Channel

The Online Publishers Association often induces statistics to prove that content is king online. This association’s first attempt was two years ago, when it released statistics that purported to show U..S. consumers spent $675 million for online content in 2001, a 92 percent increase over the previous calendar year.

To generate such ‘newsworthy’ statistics, the newspaper and magazine publishers and news broadcasters who comprise the OPA conflated their definition of ‘consumer online content’ to include business-to-business online research (such as Internet industry reports purchased from, professional reports (such as wiring reports from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers’ trade website), day trader investment advice sites, online greeting cards services, online games sites, and personal ad and dating sites.

Gloamed together, all the spending for those online content and activities made a pretty darned good press release. Most Internet trade journalists are paid to report, not to look for logical flaws or analyze announcements. So, the press release got widespread publicity.

I can’t blame really a trade organization for attempting to advance the interests of its corporate members, I just wish that they’d use definitions that aren’t houses of cards. However, their publicity campaign is effective. I blame most Internet trade journalists for parrotting and not paring the truth out of such spin.

Last month, the OPA forwarded its latest statistical concoction, which it calls the Internet Activity Index. The OPA says this index “provides a new way of looking at consumer engagement online, dividing Internet usage into four distinct activities: content, communications, commerce and search.” Lo and behold, this index, according to the OPA, indicates that during September, “for the first time ever, content surpassed Communications to become the leading online activity” and that “Long-term trends continue to indicate that Content will be the dominant source of people’s time online.”

The OPA is able to advance this contention because its researchers counted the share of time during which online consumers in the U.S. used certain Web sites and Internet applications. For example, use of streaming media of whatever kind was counted as ‘content’ usage.

For example, when I entered my office this morning, I checked my e-mail and simultaneously started listening to Internet radio via Windows Media Player (although my office is in Connecticut, I’m rather partial to Classic FM in London, whose playlist I like better than those of most classical music broadcasters here in the States). During the day, I probably checked my e-mail twenty times, for perhaps an average of six minutes each time. Yet, my Internet radio played in the background until I turned it off that evening when I left, nine hours later

According to the OPA’s metrics, I spent nine hours listening to ‘content’ and an aggregate of 120 minutes checking my ‘communications’, for a total of 11 hours applications usage during my nine-hour work day. Two-elevenths of that usage was me reading my e-mail and nine-elevenths was streaming media playing somewhere in the background. Thus, 18 percent of my online time was using ‘communications’ and 82 percent was using ‘content’, according to the OPA’s math.

Unlike me, the average online consumer in the U.S. used ‘content’ 41.0 percent and ‘communications’ 39.2 percent of the time in September, according to the OPA’s Internet Activity Index.

The late John Lennon once said that the television had become the modern equivalent of the fireplace — something that no one looks at anymore but which drones on in the background. By the OPA’s metrics, its online equivalent should be king.

3 Replies to “Crowning the 'Number One" Online Activity: Change the Channel”

  1. Reloading bullets

    Having returned from a short business trip in service of the day job, here’s the backlog from my blogroll: We won’t be the first hyper-local site in North Texas. That distinction goes to LocalNewsOnly. I was pointed there by good

  2. So what is your definition of content? How would you categorize an online radio broadcast? Why would a b-to-b report NOT be considered content? It’s one thing to rag on the OPA for its, to you, inadequate classification of whatever that stuff is online but it’s rather useless without an alternative, don’t you think?

  3. > So what is your definition of content?

    The reality is that the question itself is inane. It’s like trying to define what is stuff.

    Almost ANYTHING can be defined as content, a malleability that leads many organization to shape their definition of it to fit any agenda they want to advance.

    But if you really want me to give what should be an appropriate definition of content in the case of the OPA, that’s an easy exercise:

    OPA’s members are, About,, Belo Interactive, CBS MarketWatch,, CNET Networks,, Cond

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