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News from the open internet


Quality time: From audio to CTV to news sites, consumers seek online moments that matter, beyond social media

A hand manipulating a computer mouse, its cord undulates in the shape of a roller coaster track with a tiny roller coaster train.

"Illustration by Esther Park / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

When it comes to spending time online, not all experiences are created equal. That’s the finding from a new report released by The Trade Desk Intelligence, which conducted a survey of more than 2,000 American consumers to gauge their online media habits, attitudes, and experiences. It found that consumers are “gravitating toward online experiences that engage them — and reward them — more fully.”

In short, the study discovered that online experiences across the open internet — versus social media and other platforms centered on user-generated content — are more likely to be fertile ground for advertisers seeking a receptive audience. For instance, the survey found that 50 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 said they were completely focused on online news when they visit sites in that category. Just 27 percent of that same age group could say they were attentive when using social media.

According to the report, a whopping 98 percent of consumers (in the 45-and-up age group) described highly “positive experiences” when using platforms such as personal-interest websites (think gardening, cooking, or fashion), or listening to music or podcasts on streaming platforms. This is hardly surprising, according to sociologists who were cited in the research, because consumers are being more active and intentional about seeking out those experiences rather than zoning out with the infinite scroll of social media.

At the same time, more content has come online, enlarging the space and opportunity of the open internet: Streaming audio and video is booming. E-commerce sites and marketplaces offer new and exciting ways to shop. The Trade Desk Intelligence research says that consumers are inclined to spend more time outside of “passive walled-garden experiences,” looking for more engaging, premium content.   

Where the open internet is growing

According to Insider Intelligence, the open internet is expanding its virtual territory into three key areas: audio, connected TV (CTV), and online marketplaces. However, in its most recent report, the market research firm reveals striking imbalances between where consumers are spending their time and where ad dollars are being invested.

The adult population in the U.S. plans to spend a little over half an hour a day on Meta social media sites, which constitutes around 7.6 percent of overall digital media time. And yet, according to the report, Meta is expected to claim nearly 20 percent of total U.S. digital ad spending this year. Meanwhile, other forms of digital media — in particular, audio and CTV — are increasingly popular but “commensurate ad spend […] remains elusive,” the report notes.

Audio is more popular than ever

Audio is among the most popular ways to spend time in the United States, according to Insider Intelligence. That includes traditional radio and digital audio platforms. In 2023, it is projected that time spent with digital audio will overtake time spent with traditional radio for the first time, with both formats being hugely popular. Meanwhile, users’ commitment to listening is growing. According to the research from The Trade Desk Intelligence, 59 percent of consumers said they planned to spend more time listening to podcasts or music (versus 47 percent who said they’d spend more time with social media).

Connected TV keeps expanding

CTV is booming. But according to Insider Intelligence, this rapid growth has happened more quickly than CTV ad spending has. The report says that, even though marketers are allocating more ad dollars to the channel this year — marketers are not yet spending 10 percent of their total digital ad budgets, even as U.S. adults spend a quarter of their daily digital media time with CTV. And that engagement with CTV is expected to grow, according to research from The Trade Desk Intelligence, with 50 percent of respondents saying they anticipate an increase in their CTV viewing.

Online news and personal-interest sites draw readers

Citing Pew Research data, The Trade Desk Intelligence report points out that news consumption in the U.S. primarily occurs online, with 82 percent of American adults saying they get their news from a smartphone, computer, or tablet. And it’s not just news, but personal-interest sites that are proving to be digital spaces where readers report a high level of user satisfaction, and that’s across all age groups. According to the report findings, such sites are likely contributing to the healthy growth of the open internet, with around 68 percent of Americans saying they expect to increase their interaction with news and personal-interest sites in the future.

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk Inc.