Love quests drive online content spending

They say money can't buy you love, but it can at least help you find a date on the Internet, judging by the amount that lonely hearts in the U.S. spent seeking soul mates online in 2003.

Spending on online personal ads and dating Web sites in 2003 reached US$449.5 million, up 49 percent from 2002, according to the 2003 Paid Online Content U.S. Market Spending Report conducted by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and comScore Networks. This personals/dating category was the largest, making up almost 30 percent of total online content spending by U.S. consumers, according to the report, released this week.

In a distant second place came the business content category, with $334.1 million in spending, up 14.4 percent from 2002. This includes business news from fee-based online publications such as The Wall Street Journal; business research, such as that provided by eMarketer.com; investment advice, such as the service from changewave.com; and digital content used for business purposes, such as that found at ArtToday.com, according to the report.

The entertainment category -- which includes sales of digital music, multimedia and other leisure-related content -- placed third, with $214 million, a 6 percent decrease from 2002. However, the report states that this result might be misleading, because revenue generated from applications that operate independent of browsers -- such as the iTunes music store -- wasn't counted. For future reports, the OPA and comScore expect to adjust their data-collection methods to include these non-browser Internet applications, whose content delivery the report acknowledges "is likely to have grown significantly in the past year and will become an increasingly important trend."

Those top three categories accounted for 64 percent of all U.S. consumer spending in online content in 2003, which came to $1.6 billion, a 19 percent increase over 2002.

The fastest-growing category was "personal growth" content, which includes Web sites that offer motivational and self-improvement content for enhancing one's moods and personal appearance. Spending on this type of content grew 104.5 percent to $90.7 million in 2003.

There remains plenty of room for growth in the market for online paid content, according to the report. Only 11.1 percent of U.S. Internet users paid for content in the fourth quarter of 2003, up from 7.7 percent in the same period in 2002. "With monthly eCommerce penetration ranging from 22 to 30 percent in 2003, there is still plenty of room for growing the number of paid content consumers within the population that is already currently making transactions online," the report reads.

About 16.4 million U.S. consumers shelled out money for online content in the fourth quarter of 2003, up 2.2 million over the same period in 2002.

Yahoo's Yahoo.com was the top Web destination ranked by consumer content revenue in 2003, followed by RealNetworks' Real.com, InterActiveCorp's Match.com, Classmates Online's Classmates.com and The Wall Street Journal's WSJ.com.

The report's data came from comScore's proprietary technology network, which tracks all Web activity for its panel of 1.5 million active U.S. Internet users with their permission, including e-commerce transactions and their dollar amounts. The OPA established the parameters for the paid content market, including the exclusion of these categories: pornographic sites, gambling sites, software purchases, illegal drug-related sites, get-quick-rich schemes and scams, Internet service providers, business services (including electronic faxing and Web-based e-mail) and games for which subscriptions are purchased and played through a proprietary (non-Web browser-based) software interface.

The report is available at http://www.online-publishers.org/FY%202003%20Paid%20Content%20Report%20-%20051104%20FINAL.pdf.

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