March 5, 2007

‘Net Gain for the News Business?

Age Wireless Users All other Internet Users
18-29 30 19
30-49 49 42
50-64 19 29
65+ 3 11

A new Pew survey may offer some good news to a journalism industry eagerly seeking new and younger customers. People in the rapidly growing ranks of wireless Internet users are more likely to retrieve news online than those who access the web in other ways.

The study—conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in December 2006 and released last weekfinds that a third (34%) of all online adults in the U.S. have now logged onto the Internet using a wireless connection, such as a laptop computer, cell phone, or a personal digital assistant (PDA) such as a Palm Pilot, BlackBerry or Treo.

Not only has that number grown by an impressive 36% in the past two years, but it also includes a sizeable segment of young people. According to the survey, almost a third of wireless online users are between the ages and 18 and 29.

The survey reported that the most popular wireless device is the laptop, with roughly four in ten (39%) online users owning one. Just 13% of online users have a PDA, and 25% say they have cell phones with wireless capacity

The report also found that nearly half (46%) of all wireless users go online for news on a typical day. This percentage surpasses those who go online for news using a broadband connection (38%). That appears to be a significant finding because previous research has generally found that broadband users were the heaviest online news consumers.

This data may offer some guidance for news organizations looking to reach more consumers, especially in the face of mounting evidence that more Americans are now going without news altogether. Polling data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 19% of all Americans said they got no news at all on a typical day in 2006, up from nine percent in 1994. And that trend was most pronounced among young Americans aged 18 to 29.

John Horrigan, the author of the Pew report, is optimistic that the research could lead media companies to invest more in news content delivered over wireless devices. “Those who use mobile devices to get news are valuable customers to begin with, and it would make sense to provide content optimized for these devices,” he told PEJ. It might also suggest one way to capture some of the younger audience that the news industry is so eager to attract.