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TV Suffers as Internet Use Grows

A UCLA study shows that being online detracts from the number of hours in front of the television.

November 29, 2001|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Americans are abandoning television for cyberspace--a trend that's being fueled by the spread of faster Internet connections, which have enticed even devout couch potatoes to spend more time online, according to a new report on Internet use.

The 95-page report, published by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, found that Internet users watch TV 4.5hours less each week than Americans who don't use the Internet. The study found that television viewing decreases as Net experience increases.

The finding suggests that the Internet could ultimately have a greater impact on American society than television, which sociologists say siphoned audiences away from radio broadcasts and movie theaters and even prompted general-interest magazines to stop publishing fiction.

"If television, a unidirectional medium, displaced so many activities, then it stands to reason that the Internet, which permits interactive as well as one-way communication, might substitute for even more," wrote Princeton professor Paul DiMaggio and three other sociologists in an article on the "Social Implications of the Internet," published this year.

Although it is often assumed that the Internet is supplanting all media, the UCLA study found that outside of television watching, other activities--from newspaper and book reading to radio listening and telephone chatting--are holding up well.

"Television is the primary victim of the growth of the Internet," said the UCLA study, which was partially funded by DirecTV, the National Cable Television Assn., AOL Time Warner and several other technology and consumer electronics companies.

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters in Washington, disputed the UCLA findings. He said "other studies have indicated very little, if any, impact on TV viewing," although he was unable to cite any studies.

But a spokesman for the cable TV industry, a major provider of Internet access, said the media trends found in the study bode well for his industry.

"A lot of that Internet use is being promoted by television itself," said cable association spokesman Marc Smith. "You might watch HBO and then go online to check out the Web site. There's an opportunity here for programmers and [cable] operators to straddle both media."

Yet the study suggests TV viewing is likely to dwindle further as Internet-savvy youth grow into adulthood and as online technology improves.

Some 23% of respondents say children in their household now watch less television than before they started using the Internet.

And those with high-speed access, which has lured more than 8million U.S. subscribers in two years, go online 3.2 hours more each week than Web surfers with slower dial-up connections, the study found.

"Without question, Internet users are 'buying' some of their time to go online from time they used to spend watching television," said Jeff Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy.

The study, based on a survey of 2,006 households across the country, attempted to measure the impact of the Internet on a wide range of daily activities and social issues such as privacy, media use and shopping.

The study found that the percentage of Americans with Internet access rose to 72.3% from 66.9% a year ago. Users go online an average of 9.8 hours a week, up from 9.4 hours in 2000.

The top five online activities include: e-mail and instant messaging (87.9%), Web surfing (76.3%), online shopping (48.9%), finding entertainment information (47.9%) and reading news (47.6%).

Despite the Internet's growing popularity, however, Americans continue to voice deep concern about privacy and security online. Those two issues triggered more anxiety than any other issue connected with the Internet, Cole said.

When asked about the security of credit card information when making online purchases, for example, nearly all users with less than one year of Internet experience expressed reservations about the security of their credit cards when buying online.

Although the anxiety declined somewhat among very experienced users, nearly 60% said they remain "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" about the security of their credit card information online.

The misgivings perplex researchers who note that consumers seem a lot less concerned with security when making purchases in restaurants and shopping malls.

"Restaurant patrons who think nothing of leaving a signed credit card receipt on a table in a busy cafe are nevertheless extremely concerned about online security," Cole said. "Without question, broad shifts in perceptions about Internet security must occur before online purchasing can truly flourish."

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