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Facebook, Twitter Leading to Web Video Boom

Is it any wonder entertainment executives are worried?

In a new survey, the Pew Internet and American Life Project has found a meteoric rise in Americans' interest in online video, with the number of adult Americans who've watched a video on sites like YouTube nearly doubling since December 2006, when it conducted a similar survey.

Pew found that 62 percent of its survey respondents said they'd watched a video online, up from 33 percent in the previous survey.

That figure outranks by a large margin the portion of adult Americans who spend time social networking sites like Facebook (46 percent) or on status-updating sites like Twitter (11 percent).

Unsurprisingly, the younger demographic led the way, with 89 percent of users between the ages of 18 and 29 saying they had viewed content on a video-sharing site, while a smaller but growing portion of the 50-and-older segment said they went online for video content.

Nineteen percent of respondents said video-sharing sites figured into their routine on a typical day, up from 8 percent in 2006.

Sharing sites like YouTube, which are dominated by amateur, user-generated content, continue to dominate Internet video by volume, but Pew also identified the rising tide of premium content coming online.

In the most recent survey, 35 percent of respondents said they had seen a TV show or a movie online, up from 17 percent when Pew asked the question in a similar survey in 2007.

Part of that increase owes to the debut of Hulu, a joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp. Since its public launch last year, Hulu has signed up dozens of new content partners, including Disney's ABC, and seen its traffic skyrocket.

In April, the most recent month that data is available from online metrics firm comScore, 40.1 million users watched nearly 397 million videos on Hulu.

Of course, Google's YouTube remains the runaway leader in online video, serving up more than 99 percent of the 6.8 billion videos U.S. Internet users viewed on Google's sites in April.

Despite its soaring traffic numbers, YouTube has been a tricky property for Google to monetize, due in part to advertisers' reluctance to place branded messages alongside amateur content.

But Google CEO Eric Schmidt has spoken recently of his commitment to turn YouTube into a money-maker, touting deals such as the one Google struck with Universal Music Group to bring legal, premium content online that would get a vote of confidence from advertisers.

The surge in interest for online video that Pew's study highlights, which far outpaces other online activities, owes in part to the the increasing adoption of broadband service in the home. Earlier this year, Pew conducted a survey finding that 63 percent of American had a broadband connection at home.

These trends are not lost on entertainment companies, which have been tinkering with models to bring their content to the Web to meet consumer demand without cannibalizing their offline revenue.

In a conference call reporting second-quarter earnings yesterday, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said that "for the foreseeable future, we expect that consumers will continue to watch programs mostly on TV."

There is little in Pew's study to contradict that, but Bewkes and others seem to realize that they have a gradual, irreversible shift on their hands.

In that spirit, Time Warner, CBS and others have joined forces with Comcast to conduct a technical trial of an initiative called TV Everywhere, which aims to make premium TV content available online, but only to viewers who can verify that they pay for the subscription service offline.