CEA Survey: Consumers Want Free Content Online

The Consumer Electronics Association has at last quantified common knowledge: An overwhelming majority of Internet users download news stories, product information, pictures, graphics, audio files, and video clips—all for free. Furthermore, Internet users want and expect to continue getting all this content at no cost, and they are opposed to any kind of governmental regulation or interference that will prevent their doing so.

"Digital Download," the CEA's recently published study of consumers' online habits and attitudes, reveals that 89% of Internet users download multimedia content and information. Furthermore, 92% oppose paying taxes for accessing the Internet, 75% oppose paying sales tax for items purchased online, and 61% oppose laws blocking the use of file sharing software such as Napster. In addition, respondents to the survey who have yet to download anything expect to do so with a year or two. The study of 1812 American adults was conducted in February over the Internet.

Among those who admitted to downloading within the past year, 63% have saved pictures, 50% have gotten games, and 48% have downloaded software. Additionally, 42% have saved audio files and written information (news stories, financial and health reports, driving directions, etc.), 38% have downloaded video clips or movies, and 12% have gotten electronic books. Half of those surveyed are against fees for downloading content of any kind, and 77% are against fees for downloading information, pictures, audio files, and games.

Although it would appear that Internet users expect everything to be free, the study says that the glut of free content "does not seem to be deeply diminishing their purchasing habits." The opposite appears to be true: The free content encourages purchases of "music, videos, books, games, and computing software, countering the content industry's fear of losing sales to the Internet . . . Online households noted that being able to download items from the Internet onto their hard drives led them to increase their purchases of similar items online, through the mail, or at a store." The Internet also appears to be a great promotional vehicle for music: one-third of respondents indicated that they would buy more music if they could sample it online.

The fears of content providers about losing revenue to the Internet are probably unfounded, said CEA chairman Gary Shapiro. "Almost every technology innovation from the VCR to the CD has enriched the same copyright owners that initially attacked it. Consumers want free and public access to content online, and those same consumers are more likely to purchase similar content once they experience it online . . . the challenge for our industry is to develop new business models, products, technologies, and services which provide a balance between the legitimate interest of content owners and the desires expressed by consumers in this survey," Shapiro commented. "Public policy debates must shift to reflect the paradigm of the new economy as technology creates new ways for more consumers to access information and entertainment. We must protect the ability of technologies to evolve, especially those that allow personal, non-commercial recording. These new technologies vastly expand our collective knowledge base and ultimately benefit those most concerned—copyright owners."

The CEA will host a conference on this subject, "Digital Download: Public Access to Content in a Digital World," to be held March 6 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Information and registration are available at the CEA website or by calling 703-907-7600.