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American adults spend half of their online time with two content categories – Entertainment and Search Engines/Social Networking. That’s according to a new Nielsen report [download page], which shows that Search & Social is the leading category on smartphones, while Entertainment sites and apps are the clear leader on tablets.

Together, these two categories represent 54% time spent on smartphones, 63% of time spent on tablets, and 49% of time spent on computers.

New survey results from Limelight Networks, meanwhile, indicate that social media is the most popular activity online across the world, followed by video viewing.

How the Numbers Vary by Demographic Group

The patterns in content consumption across devices hold relatively true across age and racial/ethnic groups, though there are some discrepancies.

For example, while the 18-34 and 35-49 brackets spend more time with Entertainment than Search and Social on computers, the opposite is true of people ages 50 and older, who slightly favor the latter.

Each age group, though, spends more time with Search and Social on smartphones, and more time with Entertainment on tablets.

Looking at the races and ethnicities identified, Asian-American adults differ from Black and Hispanic adults in spending slightly more of their smartphone time with Entertainment than with Search and Social. And while Asian-American adults favor Entertainment on tablets, they do so to a lesser extent than other multicultural groups.

Which Other Content Categories Are Important?

Beyond Entertainment and Search/Social, Communication emerges as the third-leading category on both smartphones and tablets, but doesn’t figure into the top 10 on computers. Productivity & Tools are likewise important on mobile devices but not so on computers, likely due to these being more app-based.

On computers, the Telecom & Internet Services category is the third-ranked, while News and Information comes in fourth.

Retailers will be happy to know that Commerce and Shopping is the fifth-ranked category on computers (5% of total time), the 7th-ranked on smartphones (4% of adults’ time) and the 4th-ranked on tablets (6% of time).

Gen Xers Spend the Most Time With Entertainment & Social

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Millennials spend the most time with the leading digital categories… but you’d also be wrong.

Entertainment Category

In terms of Entertainment sites and apps, Gen Xers (35-49) as a general population clearly spend the most time of any age group, at 1 hour and 20 minutes per day. That compares with just over 1 hour per day on average for Millennials (18-34).

In fact, Gen Xers spend more time with Entertainment sites and apps on each device than Millennials, including smartphones (44 minutes per day versus 37 minutes per day).

Gaming is the leading Entertainment subcategory on each device, followed by Video and Movies. While Gaming holds the clear lead on mobile devices, it’s closely followed by Video on computers.

Social Media

Gen Xers’ lead in time spent isn’t as great with the Social Media category as it is with the Entertainment category.

Overall, Gen Xers on average spend 1 hour (59 minutes, to be precise) per day with Social Networking sites and apps. That compares with 52 minutes per day among Millennials, with Gen Xers’ extra time all coming on computers and tablets rather than smartphones (where the generations are equal at 43 minutes per day).

Previous research from Nielsen has revealed that Gen Xers are more likely to use smartphones, tablets and PCs than Millennials. Given that these latest figures are averaged among the entire population, the broader penetration of these devices among Gen Xers is likely a factor in the greater amount of time spent with the leading content categories.

On a racial/ethnic basis, while Black Americans led the way in time spent with Entertainment sites and apps, they’re tied with Hispanics in daily Social Media time (50 minutes). Asian-Americans are far less engaged with Social Networking sites and apps, spending just 28 minutes per day with them.

Smartphones account for three-quarters of adults’ time spent with social media across devices. On an age basis, Millennials are the most smartphone-reliant for social media (83% of time), while those 50 and above spend the smallest share of their social time with smartphones (69%). Hispanics, meanwhile, spend the vast majority (86%) of their social media time using smartphones.

Other Findings:

In other highlights from Nielsen’s report:

  • Adults spend 2 hours and 27 minutes per day using apps and the web on smartphones, compared to 52 minutes per day using the internet on a computer and 34 minutes per day using apps and the web on tablets;
  • Among users of each medium/device, smartphone web and apps now surpasses internet on a computer in average daily time spent (2:59 and 2:52, respectively); and
  • The 50-64 demographic as a whole spends the most time on average with smartphone web and apps, but that’s actually due to greater reach than some younger groups rather than heavier use.

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