Benchmarking The Internet Against TV

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Whenever you attend any kind of marketing conference (be it for the Internet or a general marketing session), the one question that always comes up is, "when will the Internet surpass television in terms of mass consumption and usage?"

That’s the wrong question.

If you have ever seen any of the PowerPoint slides that statistically demonstrate these media trends, it’s quite clear that while the traditional media channels (radio, print, TV, etc…) remain either stagnant or are gaining a little/loosing significant overall audience and reach, as the Internet continues to grow (and it looks like that hockey stick-type of growth curve). It’s clear why this is:

  • There are still geographic areas who are just getting high speed Internet access.
  • It is still a fairly new media channel (when compared to the others).
  • As more media choices come on board, people tend to try the latest and greatest.
  • As more choices enter the marketplace there is more and more fragmentation.
  • It is a media that is now more commonly available (than other media) at both work and home.
  • The mobile aspect of it continues to grow – especially due to the iPhone and the app store.
  • It’s more than a media platform, it is also a form of communication (and so much more than that).
  • Different segments (boomers, the elderly, etc…) are coming on-board faster and this is pushing usage.
  • The platforms are becoming more ubiquitous and easier to use.
  • The technology is no longer a barrier.

All valid reasons that make perfect sense.

But maybe… just maybe, we need to stop looking at when the Internet will surpass television and benchmark it against something else entirely. The Internet is much more than a media channel and it is much more than a communications platform. It’s both of those and so much more.

We should start benchmarking the Internet against electricity.

Electricity is a utility. The phone is a utility. The Internet is a utility (and so much more). The reasoning is that we’re not just talking about the Internet any more. We’re talking about how human beings now connect. We’re communicating with one another through this platform (and yes, this includes mobile) to do much more than speak (or hear voices). We’re sharing and creating text, images, audio and video. We’re also using this connectivity to figure new and interesting ways of connecting more. That alone makes it something "other than" your traditional media platforms.

Do we forget about benchmarking the Internet against TV and start benchmarking it against the electricity?


  1. The people asking about when the internet will surpass TV are thinking mass media. They are asking – when can we use the internet as a mass media channel?
    My cable has about 100 stations and I know others have hundreds more. TV is dividing 50 million viewers by a few hundred. The internet is dividing by millions. Your right; wrong question.
    As high speed internet and smart phone markets continue to grow it will not matter how many people are using it in total. But, as I think you imply, the question is what they are doing?
    I think we should continue focus on the target market based on niche activities and interests. Do we really need to measure new communication using the mass media mind set? Such as, how much total electricity is used. What does that really tell us?

  2. I agree that to compare the internet to TV in terms of market penetration or daily consumption is not a very productive question. It’s too simplistic and doesn’t pay attention to how each of the media are useful in their own respects.
    I worked in television in a developing country for a number of years and I do think it’s a very effective medium for latching emotional messages to a mass population. Strong emotions that stem from concise audio visual cues- that’s what TV excels at. In my experience I often saw a lot of advertisers misuse television by adding on too much information in a 30-second spot. What should have been information delivered in a print ad perhaps, or a brochure or in person was cluttered into a 30-second spot.
    It seems to me that in a similar way many marketers don’t yet understand the internet and the distinct value it offers. While I appreciate its value I wouldn’t presume to lecture too much on it. However I do consider comparing the internet to electricity a bit of a stretch, at least for our generation.

  3. Hi Mitch.
    “We should start benchmarking the Internet against electricity.”
    This statement made me laugh out loud (in a good way). It forced me to think. “Can you use benchmarking when one technology is dependent on the other?” No electricity, no Internet. Perhaps the tools do not exist. Imagine trying to sell the concept of permission marketing to a Japanese woodblock printer.
    Electricity must be controlled to be measured. Controlling the Internet is akin to controlling the weather. We can predict with a high degree of certainty what the it will be like tomorrow, but once in a while it rains on the parade.
    It took centuries for print to go from woodblocks to to digital desktop publishing, radio from telegraph to satellite and television from shortwave to high definition in less than 100 years. The Internet has has gone from email to revolutionizing the international business community; it has done so in less than 35 years. A newborn when compared to print, radio and television.
    There are no measurement tools for newborns (besides empirical ones), you can’t give babies IQ tests; you simply have to wait until they grow up.

  4. I like your analogy Mitch. Benchmarking the Internet against TV is like comparing apples and oranges for a very simple reason: they don’t offer the same services.
    TV only allows me to passively watch programs (more and more of which I don’t like) mostly financed by advertising (more and more of which I don’t like either).
    The Internet allows me to do stuff, it’s about empowerment. So in a way the Web is like electricity and the browser is like a plug ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. While is see the overall idea as a much needed change in thinking, it matters little to me whether we benchmark against some other utility/commodity. Of greater interest to me is, does the Internet eventually live up to its true potential, or does it just become a bigger, faster, more invasive replacement for the so-called traditional media? More videos, more streaming movies, more streaming music, more news – all these are ultimately just more of the same.
    I find a much more interesting question being, will/can the Internet become the real culture changer and multiplier of knowledge it has the possibility of becoming? Once upon a time, there were people who, when television was a nascent media, believed it could be used in a cultural and mind-expanding manner. It could be, finally, an art form, a transformative tool, a way to bring up the entire level of humanity. Instead, it just flops around on the deck.
    There is, in fact, an enormous amount of web sites and blogs that are essentially ignored, because they don’t “fit” within the Google searchiverse. Many contain significant ideas, creativity, and challenges to the status quo on the Web. Try finding them with generalized searches.
    I have started an effort to bring these gems in to greater awareness, through a new blog, My goal is to build a place where these gems are brought to light, along with critiques aimed at improving understanding and appreciation of this “other side” of the Web.
    Maybe, just maybe, the Web doesn’t have to become just a larger wasteland.

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