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Broadband Goes Mainstream: Growth in Users Shifts Video, Other Offline Interactions to Online

A new study from Nielsen//NetRatings shows that U.S. broadband penetration in February reached 68 percent for all active Internet users. This is good news for companies in the print, broadcast and Internet mediums.

According to the New York market researcher, the number of active at-home broadband users jumped 28 percent from 74.3 million in February 2005 to 95.5 million last month.

The research also found that average PC time per person rises as broadband Internet penetration does: 30 hours, 36 minutes in February versus 25 hours, 33 minutes in the same month in 2003 when only one out of three active online users had broadband.

This shows that consumers not only are satisfied with their Internet experience, but also enjoy the fast connections to Web sites for accessing images and audio and video files. The always-on nature of a broadband connection has helped them conduct activities like downloading music, checking e-mail, watching video streams and even keeping tabs on bank accounts.

Broadband is making such activities part of their daily interaction with computers rather than just when they log on to the Web, helping co-opt offline activities online.

Take AOL's experience with the Super Bowl ads. The company said its 2006 Super Sunday Ad Poll generated almost 42 million video streams as of the night of the game versus 22 million the previous year.

The site at http://www.aol.com/superbowlads produced 22 million video streams within 22 hours of the 2006 commercials being available. The number grew as the week progressed, showing consumers were willing to experience television ads online if the Web offered the same thrill and speed.

AOL's site posted videos of each Super Bowl commercial for free. Viewers could vote on their favorite 2006 Super Bowl ad and top historical Super Bowl commercial. Budweiser's “Streaker” spot was judged the favorite for this year, and Mean Joe Greene's 1980 Coca-Cola ad again was the top choice in the classic commercial poll. More than 895,000 votes were cast.

“The advent of video has allowed sites like ourselves to provide much deeper experiences,” said Ross Schaufelberger, general manager of AOL Sports, Dulles, VA. “It provides the best of broadcast and with the elements of communication and the one-to-one experience you can get with the Internet.

“What we have is a broadcast-quality environment,” he said of the AOL site. “It's obviously where everybody's moving dollars. More and more of the money is moving online.”

AOL recently rolled out a video search function. Users can access all of the Time Warner and AOL content as well as user-generated material. This means that 14,000 classic TV shows from Warner Bros. are now available online for free viewing in a broadband environment. In2TV at http://aol.com/in2tv is the name of this broadband TV network.

Another smaller company called ManiaTV! recently named Thomas Taber & Drazen, Denver, as its agency of record. The charge is to position, promote and market this Internet-based TV network focused on pop culture entertainment. Other TV networks have similar ventures. Food Network, MTV, PBS and CNN offer online broadcasts, some special and some common to their on-air programs.

The major broadcasters understand the opportunity as well as the threat if they don't participate in this broadband Internet revolution. For example, ABC News has an afternoon Webcast from the anchors of its daily “World News Tonight” broadcast. NBC runs its “Meet the Press” Sunday show online at 1 p.m. Eastern after the broadcast at 10:30 a.m.

Also, CBS SportsLine recently served 14 million streams of live video from the 2006 NCAA men's basketball tournament. More than 4 million visitors requested those streams. This surpassed the previous record of 2.6 million who witnessed NASA's live coverage of the launch and landing of the Discovery space shuttle.

Broadband makes this crossover possible. Even print media participate. The New York Times and Forbes regularly run videos of reports from reporters. Meredith Corp. entered the fray with a new video solutions unit to produce original and existing content for consumers and advertisers.

Internet service providers and cable operators are central to broadband's growing acceptability nationwide. Ads in newspapers and on TV regularly push offers of telephone plus Internet access or even “triple play”: phone plus cable plus high-speed Internet access.

Such aggressive pricing and promotions leave little time for ISPs and cable providers to go through the normal marketing steps of education, benefits and sales. That's the opinion of Cass Baker, vice president of client service and development at customer acquisition services provider Leapfrog Online, Evanston, IL.

“In this market, there's not enough time to educate, so hence a lot of price and promotion offers,” Baker said. “This may explain why a lot of the phone companies have lowered their prices to equal dial-up Internet access.

“So you've created a market that never went past the education stage — they just jumped,” he said. “And so now, those individuals who jumped are getting the benefits of education by using the product.”

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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