Kenya: Internet is creeping up on television for key 18-24 demographic, says new national survey

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The latest national survey from market research company Synovate shows that Internet use in Kenya is beginning to eat into the time devoted to television viewing, particularly in the key 18-24 demographic. The number of Kenyan Internet users continues to grow and this growth is coming from both urban and rural areas. Russell Southwood looks at the latest evidence of change in the media landscape in this bellwether country.

On average, the Internet users in the sample spent 1.1 hours daily online on average on a daily basis: this compares to just 1.6 hours on average spent daily watching television. By contrast, the Internet users in the sample spent 7.2 hours daily on average daily listening to the radio.

It is not too difficult to see that even with a relatively small Internet user base (estimated on the basis of the sample findings to be 3.5 million out a total population of 38.7 million) that this new activity will eat away at television watching hours. There are only so many hours in the day of leisure time and it really is a zero sum game. Although newspapers were not listed in the report’s summary in terms of hours spent, they probably will also be losers.

Amongst the results are two things that stand out in relation to television use. 20% are already using the Internet for news and current affairs. It’s not clear from the results whether they also watch news and current affairs on television. BBC, CNN and The Nation are the most used news sites. However, this trend may be the beginning of the end for predominance of news and current affairs in audience terms. Interestingly, 15% of the sample watch TV on the Internet.

The five top uses of the Internet range between 40-50% of the sample users and were in descending order: entertainment; games and music; social networking and instant messaging; e-mails; general surfing; and job search. The pattern is very close to existing mobile usage (with the exception of job search) if you take SMS as the equivalent of e-mails.

When the Internet users in the sample were asked what they would do if the Internet was faster, 21% said they would increase the duration of surfing the net. In other words, nearly a quarter of the existing sample will spend more time doing it. The same percentage said they would download games, music, videos and software. Furthermore, 28% said they would use video entertainment (like downloads and YouTube) and streamed content. All of these things will require time to use and this is likely to be time spent not watching television. However, these things can all be used whilst listening to the radio.

The total sample for this random survey was 1,500 people, with 500 of those in a boost sample from across the major districts of Kenya. Therefore the coverage is nationally representative of adults 15 and above and has a sampling margin of error of + or – 3%. It makes comparisons with a similar survey it carried out in 2007.

On the basis of this sample, Synovate estimates that there are now 3.5 million Internet users in Kenya. However, daily Internet use has grown from 2% of the respondents in 2007 to 5% in 2009 and weekly use from 5% to 12% over the same period. The daily use figure is the crucial one as it shows users who are finding that that they cannot do without Internet services.

If the weekly Internet use is broken down on an urban vs rural basis, urban use grew from 22% of respondents in 2007 to 30% in 2009. Rural use grew from 4% to 9% over the same period. These results confirm a lot of anecdotal evidence that has been reaching us about young people using the Government’s new Internet centres and cyber cafes in rural areas.

The lower income groups recorded a much more fast paced growth in internet access. However Internet penetration within middle class and below is still very low, making it the group with the highest growth potential. And following the expected drop in Internet costs LSM 4-10s should provide the highest growth in usage. At least half the non-users across all social categories said they would be interested in using the Internet if they had access.

In terms of age, 50% of the respondents using Internet were aged 15-34 with 21% in the 18-24 age bracket. The upcoming generation of Kenyans will be regular users of the Internet and it will form as much part of their lives as mobile phones. Over 56% of the Internet using respondents were college or University educated. Therefore those countries with better education levels in Africa will show markedly higher Internet penetration levels.

What’s the lesson for broadcasters faced with the rise of the Internet in their own backyard? Internet users are reaching out to get higher quality and more varied content. To keep viewers (particularly 18-24 year olds) viewing, African television broadcasters will have to produce more compelling and entertaining programming. For younger viewers, this will probably need to be themed channel programming that reflects their interests. Local programming will also help hold viewers’ eyes to the screen. Broadcasters also need to make the Internet part of the interactivity with programmes as much as they do with mobiles.

Some relief might be gained by television broadcasters from the fact that only 9% of the Internet users in the sample would specifically look out for ads while online. But the sting in the tail is that the 18-24 year olds were much more likely to do so.