Report: U.S. Internet Usage Thins Out

Fewer Americans spend time online now compared to the same time last year, prompting calls by one research firm to make the Web more “stimulating.”

Newly published results from Nielsen//NetRatings’ NetView audience measurement panel shows that the number of monthly user sessions in the United States declined by two percent in February 2005 when compared to February 2004. The negative growth rate places the United States at the bottom of a twelve nation listing (Hong Kong, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Brazil, Spain and Germany) in terms of percentage growth of online traffic.

The results suggest that usage in “mature” Internet markets has gone flat and that companies may need to take new tactics to stimulate additional Web growth, the Nielsen//NetRatings survey said.

However despite the negative growth rate, the average length of time spent by Americans online in February 2005 as measured by Nielsen//NetRatings was 13-hours, 44-minutes and four seconds, placing the United States at the No. 4 spot in terms of actual time spent online.

Hong Kong users spent the most time online with an average of 21 hours, 53 minutes and 24 seconds online in February 2005. That number also represented the largest growth rate at 25 percent, Nielsen//NetRatings found. Japanese Internet users logged 14 hours, 50 minutes and 42 seconds; a year-over-year growth rate of 12 percent. French Internet users rounded out the top three with 14 hours, twenty-five minutes and thirty-eight seconds logged in, which represents a growth rate of 19 percent for that nation.

Of the twelve nations tracked in the survey, users in Italy used the Internet for the least amount of time coming in at 7 hours, 59 minutes and 57 seconds. The time spent by Italians however was 15 percent higher in February 2005 than it was in February 2004.

The growth in time spent online according to Nielsen//NetRatings is coming from user session growth also referred to as increased frequency of access. U.S. user session growth in February 2005 was 0 percent on a year over year basis. The average U.S. user had 25 sessions, which was enough for a third place tie in that category with Japan. Hong Kong users had the highest number of session at 30 (year over year growth of 26 percent), followed by France at 27 (year over year growth of 17 percent).

The most surprising finding from the new results according to Kaizad Gotla, senior Internet analyst, Nielsen/NetRatings was the growth of usage in Hong Kong.

“The growth in usage in Hong Kong caught my attention,” Gotla told “For a country with one of the highest existing household broadband penetrations in the world, the year-over-year increase in time spent, resulting from increased frequency of Internet access, signals a significant shift in users’ media consumption habits.”

In Gotla’s view there are still many opportunities for companies online. Gotla suggests that the easiest opportunities may lay in countries where site relationships and Internet usage patterns are less established than they are in the United States.

That said, Gotla pointed out the U.S. market still affords its own opportunities.

“The stage is set in the U.S. for the ‘next big thing’,” Gotla said. “Increasing investment, broadband penetration, and online advertising are good precursors of future growth in the U.S.”

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