Five Questions for James P. Rutherfurd

Consumption of video, online and print media continues to escalate by about 1.2% a year, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications Partners (See Spotlight, p. 14). At some point that has to stop. Editor in chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld caught up with VSS's managing director, James P. Rutherford, to ask when.

MCN: Looking at your latest communications-industry forecast, media usage continues to grow consistently about 1.2% a year. Does that ever stop?

James Rutherfurd: At some point, it has to stop. It can’t consume all the hours in a day. But so far, it’s been a pretty steady increase.

There is some multitasking going on, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that people are working and sleeping less, just because they’re consuming more media.

People are watching TV and surfing on the Internet or flipping through a magazine while they’re watching TV or driving down the road and both listening to the radio and being exposed to outdoor advertising.

That phenomenon also has a natural break point. But so far, it accounts for pretty steady increases.

MCN: According to Ball State University, multitasking is about a 24%-of-your-time phenomenon. If you’re spending still eight hours on media, eight hours on work and eight hours on sleep, how do you manage that? Not shower or brush teeth?

JR: Maybe people are sleeping a little bit less. I’d hate to think they’re working less.

MCN: Is TV still in the driver’s seat?

JR: From a sheer number of hours standpoint, yes. If you just add up all the hours, broadcast, cable and satellite, it’s the vast bulk of time [that is consumed]. The Internet is coming on fast, but still relative to the others is a small piece.

MCN: So if you’re a cable or satellite operator, how do you get a bigger piece of this consumption?

JR: You’re going to have to focus on things like video on demand and the [digital video recorder]. To get more viewing out of it and more time spent, there’s going to be a lot of time-shifting going on — watching The West Wing at some time other than Sundays at eight, or going back into the archives and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm episode 42 on HBO on Demand, having just done that.

MCN: What kind of behavior on the part of consumers are we seeing reflected in these numbers? Are we seeing reflected in these numbers an abandonment of print media for online media? Are people creating their own TV channels through their DVRs? Are they spending more times on fantasy leagues, giving more time to computers? Are we seeing Blackberries replace the morning newspaper on commuter trains? Or what?

JR: Maybe a bit of all of the above. A lot of that is still playing out as we speak.

The phenomenon of satellite radio is relatively new, but has taken on a pretty fast ramp up. The iPod has been incredibly fast. What will be interesting to watch play out is the use of the cellular phone for other than sheer talking — everything from games to short text messages.

That will come at the expense of existing media — at the expense of print, at the expense of television.