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Sparked by a wave of innovation in digital device hardware and technology software platforms, accompanied by consumers’ rapidly increasing digital consumption habits, 2011 signaled a momentous year ahead, says the comScore 22012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus report.

The report examines how the prevailing trends in social media, search, online video, digital advertising, mobile and e-commerce define the current United States marketplace and what these trends mean for the year ahead.

Linda Abraham, comScore CMO and EVP of Global Product Development, says “... 2012 promises to be an exciting year for the digital media industry... the explosion of available content and proliferation of web-enabled devices drives the evolution of the digital consumer... “

Key insights from the 2012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus include:

I. Facebook-Led Social Media Market is Redefining Communication in the Digital and Physical Worlds

Social Networking accounted for 16.6% of all online minutes at the end of 2011 and is on track to surpass Portals as the most engaging online activity in 2012. Facebook continues to lead as the driving force behind this shift in consumer behavior, accounting for the largest share of online minutes across the entire web in 2011.

Among the many beneficiaries of the growth and innovation in display advertising are web publishers. The leading U.S. publisher of display ads in 2011 was Facebook with more than 1.3 trillion impressions (27.9% market share), more than double that of #2 publisher Yahoo! Sites at 529 billion impressions.

Advertising on Facebook, which combines many of the attributes of search such as granular targeting, small ad formats and self-purchased ad buys, presents a unique offering for many marketers looking to bridge their search and display advertising.

II. Bing Gains Ground in Search

Although Google maintains a strong lead in the U.S. search market, one of the most notable stories in search in 2011 was Bing’s positive growth trajectory. Bing closed out the year by surpassing Yahoo! for the #2 position among core search engines for the first time in its history, bolstered in part by its social search partnership with Facebook implemented in early 2011.

As the web continues to grow in size and complexity, the role of search has become critical to its practicality and value. Despite the U.S. search market’s overall maturity, it continued to grow at double-digit rates, posting an 11% increase in 2011. This growth was driven by a 3% gain in unique searchers and a 7% gain in the number of searches per searcher, highlighting that increasing search intensity per searcher explains the majority of the double-digit gain in the past year. With the U.S. being a very mature market for search, continued volume increases will rely on driving a greater number of searches per searcher, which ultimately depends on delivering more value to the end user with high quality search results.

III. Online Video Boom Signals Sea Change in Video Ecosystem

Online video viewing witnessed impressive gains across a variety of measures in 2011, signaling a behavioral shift in how Americans are consuming video content. More than 100 million Americans watched online video content on an average day to close out 2011, representing a 43% increase versus year ago.

In 2011, Americans viewed more online video content than ever before, as evidenced by strong increases across several key viewing metrics. In addition to more daily viewers, the number of video streams jumped 44% to 43.5 billion in December 2011. One of the key behavioral shifts in online video continues to be the increasing adoption of long-form video content viewing, as Americans watch shows and movies on-demand over the Internet. The average number of minutes per video view rose from 5.0 minutes to 5.8 minutes by the end of 2011 with the average viewer watching 239 videos (up 37%).

IV. Digital Advertising Enters Era of Increased Accountability as Brand Dollars Continue to Shift Online

4.8 trillion display ad impressions were delivered across the U.S. web in 2011 as brand advertisers continued to shift dollars to the digital medium. This shift in ad dollars has magnified the need for greater transparency and accountability in ad delivery across the digital advertising ecosystem.

V. Smartphone and Tablets Fuel the Rise of the Digital Omnivore

The rise of smartphones and tablets has drastically altered consumers’ digital media consumption. In 2011, the majority of all mobile phone owners consumed digital media on their device, marking an important milestone in the evolution of mobile from primarily a communication device to also a content consumption tool.

In December 2011, 8.2% of all digital traffic (page views) occurred outside of the classic web, with mobile accounting for 5.2% of traffic, tablets driving 2.5% and other connected devices accounting for less than 1%. In many cases smartphones and tablets have provided incremental reach and engagement to classic web activities, while for others, such as map content and email, these devices have started to cannibalize this behavior on the classic web.

VI. E-Commerce is Back and Better Than Ever

Despite the backdrop of continued economic uncertainty, 2011 was a strong year for retail e-commerce. Throughout the year, growth rates versus the prior year remained in double-digits to significantly outpace growth at brick-and-mortar retail.

Total U.S. e-commerce spending reached $256 billion in 2011, up 12% from 2010. Travel e-commerce spending grew 11% to $94.5 billion, while retail (non-travel) e-commerce spending jumped 13% to $161.5 billion for the year.

VII. One of the more significant trends in online communications is usage attrition in web-based email services as consumers shift to social media and alternate communication channels. The most notable declines in webmail engagement have been occurring among teens age 12-17 (down 31%) and 18-24 year olds (down 34%.). That 18-24 year olds are now moving away from webmail suggests a larger and more permanent shift in email usage may be occurring. Part of this shift is attributable to the rising role of mobile devices in consumers’ digital lives, which is directly impacting how people engage with the classic web. The mobile email audience for both age segments saw double-digit growth in the past year, with mobile email users age 18-24 climbing 32%

For additional information, please visit comScore here, or to view the webinar or access the PDF file of the complete report, go here.

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