Study shows Web use cutting into TV time
By David R. Osier
(CNN) -- Going online is now so entrenched in American life that not even the dot-com collapse and the subsequent economic slowdown have diminished the Web's popularity, according to a wide-ranging study on Internet use in the United States released Thursday.
But concerns over credibility and credit card security continue to worry Internet users, reminders the medium is still in its adolescence.
The study, conducted for the second year by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, found 72.3 percent of Americans now have online access, up from 66.9 percent in 2000.
Partners in the study were America Online (owned by AOL Time Warner, the parent company of CNN), Microsoft, The Walt Disney Co., Sony, GTE, Pacific Bell, Hewlett-Packard, the National Cable Television Association, Verizon, Accenture, DirecTV, the National Science Foundation and the university.
The study also found that average hours per week people spend online continues to increase, from 9.4 hours in 2000 to 9.8 hours in 2001. That compares with the 10 hours non-users say they spend watching television per week.
Perhaps the study's most intriguing revelation about changing American behavior is that Internet users spend 4.5 fewer hours a week watching television than non-users.
Yet most users report they spend about same amount of time they always have on other activities such as the evening meal and playing sports.
"The only social activity in American households that suffers significantly as a result of Internet use is time spent watching television," said Jeff Cole, director of the policy center, in a press release.
The study, conducted from May to July, surveyed a broad cross-section of 2,006 Internet users and non-users on levels of usage, media trust, consumer behavior, communication patterns and social and psychological effects.
More than half of the respondents were the same ones the study questioned last year. A spokesman said a follow-up is planned in January to measure the impact of the September 11 attacks.
The study showed obvious declines in commercial activity, reflecting the economic slowdown at the time it was conducted.
Nevertheless, the shift continues from shopping at bricks-and-mortar retail outlets to the Web.
Online shopping declined only slightly, from 50.7 percent of Internet users in 2000 to 48.9 percent in 2001, and 52.8 percent of online shoppers say their e-buying translates into fewer purchases at conventional stores, although that figure was down from 65.2 percent last year.
"Despite the dot-com meltdown, we found that the Internet is more vigorous than ever," Cole said. "Yet many issues of concern about the Internet remain from 2000, and new concerns have emerged in 2001."
One finding that could affect e-commerce was that only 22.8 percent of Internet shoppers think online prices are better than at stores with walls.
Another issue is credibility. While 58 percent of Internet users believe most online information is accurate and reliable, more than one-third think only one-half of the information is credible.
Even more mistrust exists about credit card security. The vast majority -- 94.5 percent -- of all users, new and experienced, have at least some worry that credit card information could be used without their permission.
"Several trends about online buying continue to develop -- especially regarding credit card security -- that could have major effects on the evolution of Internet commerce," Cole said.
The concern over credit card security is something of a paradox, Cole said.
"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," he said.
"Broad shifts in perceptions about Internet security must occur before online purchasing can truly flourish."
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