Israelis are spending increasing portions of their lives on the Internet, and it’s happening fast. That’s the major conclusion of a comprehensive survey, the first of its kind on Internet usage. The study was carried out by the Bezeq telecommunications company for the digital conference sponsored by TheMarker this week.
In addition to that major survey result, the study, which was conducted with a representative sampling of the Israeli population, shows that the Internet is no longer perceived as some kind of new innovation in our lives. Instead it has become an integral part of our daily existence.
Institutions are not keeping up with the public’s desire to manage their lives via the Internet. Institutions, including the government, are dallying in the provision of services via the Web. Israelis are on the Internet. They have smartphones, tablet computers and desktop models along with rather fast Internet hookups. They’re also not hesitant to make purchases on the Internet, but the Web-based some of the institutions in their lives provide is lagging behind.
“We are seeing fields in which Israeli users are very advanced. For example, social networks [such as Facebook] are very dominant in Israeli private life,” says Bezeq vice president Ran Guron. “On the other hand, the institutional world—business, commerce, medical services and finance—are still not supplying the services that have penetrated the wider market. To the extent that it depends upon the users themselves, they are running ahead, but the business and institutional entities run a lot more slowly.”
Perhaps the most striking finding from the survey is the amount of their leisure time that Israelis devote to the Internet—fully 45% of their free time on average, the study found. This includes reading, watching video content and time spent on social networks. Israelis say that the Internet is their preferred medium when it comes to spending their free time, and it beats out television, meeting up with friends or hobbies--by a wide margin.
The desktop computer, as one would expect, has been found to give way to mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Only 24% of respondents said they prefer to read news on a desktop rather than a mobile device. Smartphones and tablets are also preferred when it comes to accessing social networks. Fully 48% of respondent prefer them not only over desktop computers but also laptops.
Interestingly, 22% said their living room television is a smart TV, meaning that it had its own connection to the Internet. By international standards, that’s a high rate considering that in the United States, which is considered the global leader in field of Internet television content, the rate is about 24%, based on eMarketer data. The findings indicate that even though video content providers such as Netflix and Hulu do not operate in Israel, that has not prevented smart TVs from relatively quickly penetrating the market here. As in the past, Israelis are proving that they are generally quick to adopt new technologies.
“We don’t know the extent to which Israelis use the smart features on their televisions, but we can say that the platform is already there,” says Guron. The Bezeq survey shows that the ground in Israel is relatively fertile for new Internet-based video content. The equipment already exists in many Israeli households. Now it’s a matter of giving them more of the relevant content.
Seventy-five percent of households in the country have wireless Internet service, providing the necessary Internet connection for mobile devices, the survey found, and in fact the average household has five different devices connected to the Internet. That would generally include a desktop computer connected by a cable in addition to mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets.
Another prominent survey finding is that the craze of a few years ago over Facebook has been waning, supplanted by more measured use. Facebook has given way to the WhatsApp messaging service (which Facebook acquired about a year ago), which has seen increased use among Israelis. The service includes the ability to transmit messages, including voice messages, photos and videos, to a select group of friends and associates. There are signs, however, that use of WhatsApp too will be assuming more modest proportions.
When asked by the pollsters which application they would be unwilling to give up, 70% said WhatsApp. Fifty-seven percent said they would be unwilling to forgo Waze, the Israeli developed application that provides GPS and routing information along with crowdsourced alerts about traffic conditions. Only 32% said they would not forgo the Facebook app. A comparison with the results of a similar survey in July of last year confirms that Whats App and Waze have been on the rise while dependence on Facebook has been falling.
Guron explains the initial signs that WhatsApp use is moderating: “Fifty-eight percent of those questioned acknowledged that the proliferation of [WhatsApp] groups was beginning to bother them. Thirty-one percent acknowledged that they were not active in most of the groups that they are members of. Seventeen percent said they were starting to become sick of the WhatsApp groups.”
When it comes to Facebook, the survey found that Israelis are cutting back a bit, focusing mostly on status updates on what is happening with their friends as well as news media content. Israelis are reading fewer Facebook posts on average and are responding less, but Facebook is getting stronger as a platform through which users get content from established news providers.
The Internet has totally transformed how content is provided, but there are still fields in which its penetration is relatively low. Only 31% of Israelis said they read books and magazines on the Internet, but “the rate of consumption of magazine content is higher than we thought,” Gurion counters. “The movie and music fields have already matured, and we believe that the magazine and book field is growing quickly now in Israel, meaning that it is reaching maturity. We foresee continued growth in the consumption of books and magazines on the Web in the next several years.”
The shift to the Internet is not without its challenges, even legal ones. Eighty percent of Israelis surveyed said they listen to music on the Internet and 75% said they watch movies and program series online, but some of this content involves pirated versions copied in violation of copyrights. The survey also revealed that for the most part Israelis are not prepared to pay for content. Only 5% of respondents reported that they have paid for movies or program series online. Although much online content is in fact free, the survey results also hint that consumption of pirated unlawfully reproduced content may be relatively high in Israel.
With Israel in the midst of an election campaign, it’s particularly interesting to gauge the Internet’s political influence. The survey results are a bit surprising in that regard. On one hand, Israelis follow politics on Facebook, where they can get unmediated information directly from the politicians’ Facebook pages. On the other hand, when it comes to the voters’ coming to a political stance of their own, they still need analysis and commentary.
The survey shows that 33% of Israelis follow politicians on Facebook, rendering it the primary source for information about politicians, even more than television and newspapers. On the other hand, when asked who helps them develop their own opinions about the politicians, 63% said television and newspapers are their primary sources for that. “The traditional platforms—television and newspapers—still play an important role in shaping public opinion and setting the agenda. People want somebody to make order out of a mess,” Guron says. “They understand that the information on Facebook is unrefined and biased so they look for a source with authority.”
Children are being swept up in the digital world early in life. The survey found that the average age at which children are getting their first smartphones is 11. And 70% of families communicate through family WhatsApp groups, making smartphones an important means of communication even within the family. But the presence of digital devices in children’s lives also engenders concern among parents. Sixty-two percent of them said they monitor their children’s activities on the Internet and on smartphones, and 78% of parents find it appropriate to limit the amount of time that their children are on digital media.
The digital world is also shaping how couples meet even before they have children. Thirty-two percent of those couples surveyed who met over the past year said they met on the Internet. Five years ago the comparable figure was just 6%.
“The Israeli consumer is already mastering the digital field well, likes it and is all over cyberspace,” Gurion said in looking at the broad picture. “The challenge is actually on the other side, with companies and government, which need to know how to reach the consumer through digital means. Entire systems are insufficiently prepared for the digital age and are not responding to their customers’ needs. The time has come for this to change.”
The government, he adds, needs to put itself in the role of encouraging Internet use. “There are barriers to the development of the Web that the government can help removing--for example, the customs duties on purchases from abroad,” he said. “The government absolutely has a role beyond making its own services accessible on the Internet.”