Downloading media content from the internet is now mainstream behaviour.

More than half of Australia’s internet users have downloaded audio content, and more than a third have downloaded video, according to Nielsen’s Australian Internet and Technology Report for 2006-2007, reported in last week’s B&T magazine.

These figures are even more striking than those presented to the Australian Communications and Media Authority conference by Eureka Strategic Research last November which suggested that a quarter of Australian households had downloaded or streamed audio visual content from the web.

The Nielsen figures show that the most popular content is music, followed by music videos and then amateur video clips. News is next – the fourth most popular kind of content – forming 22% of downloads and coming in ahead of sport (17%) and feature length movies (14%).

ABC boss Mark Scott, who last week announced plans to make money from selling podcasts and vodcasts, might draw reassurance from information on how downloaders prefer to pay for their content.

29% of those who have downloaded or streamed media content say they don’t want to pay, and they wouldn’t download content if it included advertising. Cloud cuckoo land, you might think.

Another quarter want content for free and are prepared to put up with advertising in return.

At present most content is obtained for free – but I think the most significant fact is that a total of 41% of internet downloaders say they would prefer to pay for their content in some way rather than put up with advertising.

22% would prefer to pay for unlimited access, 9% would prefer to pay a subscription to a “library” of download options, 8% say they would prefer to pay per view and 2% would prefer to rent the item for a limited number of days.

The figures challenge the popular notion that people will not be prepared to pay for internet content.

Elsewhere the pay per view business model is on the rise. Free to air television is losing viewers while pay television gains them.

Once Australia has internet speeds that make streaming video easy and painless, the decline of free to air is likely to turn in to a ski slope.

News organisations, particularly those with the ability to provide “premium” content, should take note.

Peter Fray

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