China sees digital shift

01 March 2011

BEIJING: Consumers are adopting a diverse array of new media habits in China, leading to the creation of distinct groups such as "digital junkies" and "mobile mavens", McKinsey has revealed.

The consultancy estimated some 6m people go online for the first time in the country every month, and predicted the Chinese internet population will grow from 420m today to 750m in 2015.

An additional 100m netizens should also access the web via wireless handsets by this date, supplementing the 233m doing so at present.

McKinsey surveyed 4,866 connected consumers, and reported the typical respondent spent 39.2 hours online each week, a figure covering all aspects of entertainment, communications and "infotainment".

This incorporated 13.2 hours watching video, nine hours listening to music and playing games, four hours for instant messaging, and 2.4 hours regarding social networking.

When assessing more specific activities, 6% of McKinsey's panel were defined as "digital junkies", dedicating 34.1 hours a week to new media devices, twice the average 15.8 hours.

Members of this group own 3.6 appliances, including laptops, MP3 players and e-readers, each, and 38% replace their mobile phone at least once a year.

Some 42% of "digital junkies" are between 18 and 24 years old, and 28% live in Tier 1 markets like Shanghai or Beijing, compared with 12% of the whole sample.

McKinsey suggested such an audience will expand from 6m people to 45m by 2015.

Elsewhere, "gamers" spend eight hours a week competing against other players on the web, are frequent social networkers, and usually reside in lower tier areas.

A third of this demographic sit inside the 18-24 year old cluster, and the whole "gamers" category is pegged to house 67.5m Chinese consumers at the end of the forecast period, up from the current 37.8m.

Another segment is the "info-centrics", comprising the 17% of web users who mostly favour using the internet to enhance productivity at work, thus prioritising search, information and email.

"Info-centrics" earn relatively high incomes, while 41% fit in the 25-35 year old age range, and only 6% of their online time is attributable to mobile phones.

Consisting of 71.4m people in 2010, this group should reach 127.5m at the mid-point of the decade.

As with "info-centrics", "mobile mavens" surf the net for a minimum 14 hours and a maximum 28 hours a week.

However, 39% of their activity is conducted through wireless handsets, which 34% update every 12 months, and this community is due to hit 60m in 2015, measured against 33.6m at present.

Among "light users" browsing the internet for less than 14 hours a week, "traditionalists" - now contributing 105m netizens and a projected 187.5m in 2015 - prefer TV to the web and generally inhabit Tier 4 markets.

These numbers stood at respectively 75.6m and 135m concerning "online traders", who are particularly focused on tracking companies and trading stocks.

"Basic users", often high-school students and blue collars workers, spend just 8.5 hours a week utilising digital media, and 5.1 hours on traditional media, considerably behind the 11.3 hour norm posted by connected consumers.

This audience, 71.4m strong, is likely to shrink as salary levels and digital literacy rise.

"For corporate marketers across industries, the internet has become a critical battleground for building brands, pushing products, and managing corporate reputations," McKinsey's report said.

"Word-of-mouth is enormously influential, and in the online world, word-of-mouth is shaped by the daily torrent of recommendations, reviews, comments and rumour."

Data sourced from McKinsey; additional content by Warc staff