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Adam Ferraro, a Toronto-based strategic planner in advertising, checks his phone on his walk to work. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)
Adam Ferraro, a Toronto-based strategic planner in advertising, checks his phone on his walk to work. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)

Technology

How Canadians are using the Internet differently Add to ...

Canadians’ digital lives are becoming more complicated.

As some of the most active members of the global digital community, Canadians spent more than 34 hours online per month in 2013, on average; outpaced in the top 10 countries only by the U.S. and the U.K., at roughly 36 hours. But increasingly, that digital lollygagging is shifting away from computers and on to mobile devices. And the challenge for advertisers to find the best way to communicate with consumers in the mobile space, is becoming more urgent.

According to a new report from research firm comScore Inc., last year saw a 17-per-cent drop in total minutes Canadians spent online on their personal computers, and a 21-per-cent decline in total pages viewed from computers. But those numbers do not indicate less time spent online; they reflect a shift in people’s digital lives, which are increasingly migrating to smartphones and tablet devices.

“That trend a couple of years back wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar screen,” Bryan Segal, vice-president of sales for comScore in Canada, said. “People are continually using their smartphones, while looking for relevant information … there’s an untapped audience, and that audience will continue to grow as we get into mobile payments and mobile wallets, and the ability to target people where they are.”

For example, in the U.S., comScore found there was a huge leap in online access on mobile devices: More than half of people’s time spent online in 2013 was done on smartphones and tablets. Specifically, 124 billion minutes were logged through tablet users and 442 billion minutes on smartphones, compared to 429 billion minutes on desktop computers. That’s a huge leap from just a few years ago, in 2010, when just 141 billion online minutes came from smartphones and tablets combined.

comScore does not yet have that mobile data in Canada, but has begun tracking it here and will be able to report comparable numbers next year.

The firm does know that top content categories have all jumped since last year: More Canadians are looking for weather reports, accessing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and doing searches through platforms such as Google on mobile, to name just a few. For example, the top content in Canada – weather, obviously – was sought out by 11.86-million mobile subscribers in 2013 compared to 8.9-million last year.

And smartphone penetration has outpaced other major markets such as the U.S., with roughly three-quarters of Canadians owning one of these devices.

The challenge to advertisers is clear: adapting their advertising to stay in touch with people whose online media habits are becoming even more fragmented than before.

Roughly a third of us are using a smartphone or a tablet while watching TV, and most of us are watching more video online. The most popular online video content are news and TV shows. And video viewing is also growing on mobile, according to comScore.

Because display advertising – those banners that frame the web pages we look at every day – is small and not particularly effective on a smartphone screen, advertisers are turning to social media and “native advertising,” which is advertising meant to look like content people might want to read or watch anyway. comScore’s report suggested that “social media will have a disproportionate influence on how the digital media industry evolves” as mobile becomes more important.

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter already accounted for 36 per cent of display advertising in Canada in 2013, well ahead of entertainment and news sites. That does not even take into account content-style ads built into social media users “newsfeeds.”

Follow on Twitter: @susinsky

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