Roll on broadband

from my column in the media, called net savvy

If a survey by search engine Google is to be believed, the British apparently now spend more time on the Internet than watching television.

The report, carried by news agency AFP in March this year, showed that British Internet users spend an average of 164 minutes online daily — the equivalent of 41 days a year — compared to 148 minutes watching television. According to AFP, the study was conducted by the TNS institute last month involving 1 030 adults aged 16 to 64.

The findings make sense. There are about 10 million broadband connections in the UK, grown from zero to 10-million in just over seven years. Increasing use of computers at the workplace, together with improved technology allowing broadband connections in private homes, are the main reasons for the Internet’s new-found domination over there.

According to research by leading internet analyst, Arthur Goldstuck, South Africa’s broadband usage in 2005 was at 147 532 users, dominated by ADSL (two thirds), with 3G as the second biggest.

Comparatively those are small numbers, but we were late starters — only coming to the broadband party in 2003. South Africa is only in its third year of broadband and the growth has been impressive. Every year, despite the outrageous expense of it, broadband usership has been tripling. Goldstuck says broadband will double in 2006 to about 277 000 users.

Broadband means that people spend more time online and go online more often, which bodes well for an online advertising model. We know that online advertising never quite fulfilled its potential in the world of slow, cumbersome dial-up.

On the dial-up web, advertising is often perceived as a nuisance. Advertising chews up sparse bandwidth making the page take longer to load. In the world of dial-up, time is money and the pressure is always there to get on, get your content and get off. Who has time to browse at a leisurely pace taking in all the elements of a website such as content and associated advertising?

It’s obvious. Broadband not only means catchier, slicker and smoother online advertising. It also means that users will have more time to watch them and click and buy. Advertising is less likely to be perceived as an intrusion. It will not get in the way of a fast user experience because bandwidth is plentiful.

There is so much hype about text-based contextual search advertising, pioneered by Google and Yahoo!’s Overture, resulting in predictions that graphic, banner advertising (including banners, skyscrapers and billboards) was on its way down. Far from it, broadband is signalling a strong revival in the fortunes of graphic-based banner advertising.  Multimedia online advertising, such as video and audio, will also start to proliferate.

Broadband also means that users will increasingly start accessing the net during leisure time: in the evenings and weekends.

Every medium dominates a niche. Radio and outdoor advertising dominate drive time. Television dominates the evening and weekend, as does cinema. Print is a particularly strong channel on weekends, but also during the day and evenings.

Where does online fit? Well part of online’s recent success has been its ability to be a strong weekday, daytime channel – with most people accessing the net at work. On weekends and evenings however traffic for most South African websites plummet dramatically.

This should change. As more users log on via broadband from their home, the net will make a strong evening and weekend showing – as demonstrated in the effect revealed in the UK survey.

Realistically we’ll never see those big broadband numbers overseas, because for starters there are about half the number of computers in this country than there are users of broadband in the UK. Goldstuck emphasises that to get to the UK numbers on a relative scale we would need to have a more liberal regulatory environment, with cheaper connectivity.

Matthew Buckland is publisher of the Mail & Guardian Online @



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.