Americans consume media in a major way, study finds

October 30, 2013 Julie Riggott

Americans consume an enormous amount of media each day via television, radio, phone and computer. As you read this article on the Internet, perhaps while checking the text messages on your smartphone or listening to satellite radio, that statement undoubtedly rings true. But exactly how much media flows to individuals and households in a year? Try 6.9 zettabytes — that’s 6.9 million gigabytes.

This massive U.S. media consumption was the topic of “How Much Media? 2013 Report on American Consumers,” produced by the Institute for Communication Technology Management (CTM) at the USC Marshall School of Business and  visiting researcher James Short.

The study looks at media consumption by individuals in and out of the home, excluding the workplace, between 2008 and 2015, breaking “media” down into 30 categories of media type and delivery (television, social media and computer gaming, for example). Information reported in the study was canvassed from several hundred data sources, including media measurement firms such as Nielsen, Arbitron, investor and analyst firms, government sources, and foundation and research publications.

According to the study, U.S. media consumption totaled 3.5 zettabytes, an average of 33 gigabytes per consumer per day. (One byte is one character of text. A gigabyte is 109 bytes. A zettabyte is 1,021 bytes.) By 2012, total U.S. consumption had increased to 6.9 zettabytes, an average of 63 gigabytes per person per day. Put another way, Short said, if we printed 6.9 zettabytes of text in books and stacked those books as tightly as possible across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, the pile would be almost 14 feet high.

Among the study’s findings:

  • In 2008, Americans talked, viewed and listened to media for 1.3 trillion hours, an average of 11 hours per person per day. By 2012, total consumption had increased to 1.46 trillion hours, an average of 13.6 hours per person per day, representing a year-over-year growth rate of 5 percent.
  • By 2015, the data indicated that Americans will consume media for more than 1.7 trillion hours, an average of approximately 15.5 hours per person per day. The amount of media delivered will exceed 8.75 zettabytes annually or 74 gigabytes — 9 DVDs worth — of data sent to the average consumer on an average day.
  • Mobile messaging hours, which in 2012 accounted for approximately 9 percent of voice call hours, will double to more than 18 percent of voice hours, a year-over-year growth rate of more than 27 percent.
  • Viewing video on the Internet averaged less than three hours a month in 2008; by 2012, viewing time increased to almost six hours a month, a year-over-year growth rate of 21 percent. By 2015, the report projected that Americans will be watching video for almost 11 hours a month, a compound annual growth rate of 24 percent a year.
  • From 2008 to 2015, total annual hours for users of Facebook and YouTube will grow from 6.3 billion hours to 35.2 billion hours, a year-over-year growth rate of 28 percent.

Looking across different sources of media — from traditional media (TV, radio, voice calls) to new digital sources (tablets, mobile gaming devices, smartphones, mobile video) — the report made a surprising discovery.

“Despite the popular belief that the ubiquitous computer and smartphone dominate modern media life, traditional media, including TV, radio and voice calls, still account for two-thirds of total U.S. household media time,” Short concluded. “Of course the picture is a changing one as digital platforms continue to grow, but they are still only a third of total annual media time.”

New digital sources, however, are having major effects on most forms of media consumption. If we change our focus from the time people spend viewing media to the number of bytes presented, over half of all bytes are now received by computers, with mobile computers the most rapidly growing segment.

The report also included data on Americans’ use of media dating back to the 1960s. Over those decades, the supply of digital media measured in bytes has been growing at compounded rates ranging between 6 and 30 percent each year. Media consumption, on the other hand — what we actually pay attention to — has been growing at compounded rates ranging between 3 percent and 5 percent each year.

The “How Much Media?” research program was sponsored by an industry consortium including Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Seagate Technology and Verizon Wireless. Lucy Hood, head of CTM and president and chief operations officer of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and Josette Bonte, CTM chief strategy officer and director of research, contributed industry guidance and program support.