Online viewers shun lengthy videos
You won't find Vanita Butler sitting in front of her computer watching a full-length movie or television show, even though she's an avid viewer of video on the Internet.
The 43-year-old saleswoman from Newark, Ohio, said she sees the Internet as more of a tool — for catching a news story or highlights from a NASCAR race. When she has time for entertainment, she and her husband prefer the television set.
"It's a little bit more of an intimate environment," Butler said of watching television. "We can sit and do it together."
Butler is a typical consumer of video over the Internet, according to a new AP-AOL Video poll, which found that only one in five online video viewers have watched or downloaded a full-length movie or television show.
Overall, more than half of Internet users have watched or downloaded video. News clips were the most popular, seen by 72 percent of online video viewers, followed by short movie and TV clips, music videos, sports highlights and user-generated amateur videos.
Cheryl Landers, 50, a retail manager in Dedham, Mass., said she finds amateur clips funny and entertaining, but with two foster kids, she can never spare more than five minutes at a time, let alone a whole hour to watch an entire television episode. She said she usually has the TV on as background noise.
The poll's findings come as major Hollywood studios and television networks are increasingly making their old and current programs available online — free with commercials, or for $1.99 an episode through services like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store and Google Inc.'s video store. AOL announced deals with four studios last month to offer programs through its new video portal.
"Rome wasn't built in a day," said Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which is selling programs and giving away ad-supported shows through AOL. "A lot of progress has been made in terms of the quality of video and audio on the Web. It's not the same as broadcast or DVD, but it's improving."
Kevin Conroy, executive vice president for AOL, said its users have been watching longer and longer clips as more programs become available — starting with music videos, moving to television and now adding movies. Viewership should improve, he said, as more portable gadgets and other devices support Internet video.
For now, full-length programs are good for frequent travelers who like to watch movies on laptops and for television fans who might have missed an episode of a serial drama like "Lost," said Rob Enderle, an industry analyst with the Enderle Group. Few PCs these days are hooked up to television sets, he said, making longer programs less of a draw.
Enderle and other analysts consider online video key to AOL's ability to increase traffic to ad-supported sites and offset declines in revenues expected as the company drops subscription fees for millions of high-speed customers. Last month, AOL launched a video portal it envisions as a television guide for video clips from around the Internet, including those at rival sites.
The Associated Press also has its sights on video. In March, the news cooperative launched a service with Microsoft Corp. allowing AP member Web sites to offer free video news clips and share in ad revenue. The AP Online Video Network uses Microsoft's MSN Video technology.
The major networks have free and premium subscription offerings on their sites, while ABC and NBC are also selling news clips through iTunes.
The new survey found that relatively few — 7 percent of video users — have paid to watch any video online. Nearly three-quarters of online video users prefer free videos with ads.
"I'm pretty much against paying for stuff on the Internet," said P.J. Park, 25, of Mount Rainier, Md.
Men and younger people were more likely to have watched online video, although one in five Internet users 65 and older and nearly half of all online women have. Joyce Wade, 66, of Dover, Del., said she likes the fact that she can watch news clips from the British Broadcasting Corp. and avoid watching "the same thing over and over again" on TV.
Troy Richards, a businessman from Scottsdale, Ariz., likes the control the Internet offers.
"I don't like to watch the news because it's depressing, so I just go on the computer and pick the stories I want to see," Richards said.
He also likes to watch Arizona Diamondbacks games online when he is at his summer home in San Diego.
"The quality is not nearly as good, but it gets the job done," he said.
Among other findings:
• Users of online video are drawn to its convenience and accessibility, but the bulk of them say their television viewing habits remain unchanged.
• One-third of video viewers — higher among high-speed Internet users — say they watch more video on the Internet now than a year ago.
• Urbanites and suburbanites — who have high-speed connections at home in greater numbers than rural residents — are more likely to have watched video online.
• Forty-six percent of video watchers with high-speed service view video at least once a week, compared with 22 percent of dial-up users. Dial-up users also were more likely to complain about download times.
The AP-AOL Video poll of 3,003 adults, including 1,347 online video watchers, was taken by telephone July 27-Aug. 9. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points for all adults and of 3 percentage points for online video watchers.
Associated Press Writer Will Lester, AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius in Washington contributed to this report.