Understanding the Digitally Savvy

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With 1 percent of the nation's population controlling a disproportionate amount of its wealth, the same can now be said of an emerging digital elite and its new-media consumption habits.

"Understanding the Digital Savvy Consumer," released this month from Scarborough Research, is an analysis of the nation's leading-edge digital class. About 6 percent of the population falls into this group, Scarborough said. The definition: Survey respondents have to be regularly engaged in at least eight of 18 "tech behaviors" such as owning a PDA or HDTV, downloading audio or video, or using advanced cell phone features. The most cited activities were cell phone text messaging (91 percent compared to 33 percent of the general population) and online bill payments (84 percent vs. 37 percent).

Seventy-one percent own an iPod or other MP3 player while only 23 percent of the general population do. Thirty-eight percent read or comment on blogs compared to only 8 percent of the population as a whole. More than three-quarters listened to music online vs. 21 percent. Twelve percent downloaded podcasts in the past 30 days compared to just 2 percent of the nation as a whole.

Among the questions the survey sought to address: To what extent does behavior of the digital savvy presage the impact of technology on the general population?

To that end, one of the surprising findings was that this digitally savvy group reads newspapers just as often as their luddite counterparts but prefer national options such as the New York Times to local papers. They also listen to the original wireless —the radio — more often than the population as a whole.

The survey may presage future TV viewing habits. The digital savvy group was among the lightest TV viewers but watched or downloaded shows via the Web way more than the general population (19 percent vs. 4 percent). Cable news viewing habits are the inverse of national ratings: MSNBC is the digital savvy group's favorite, Fox News the least (ranking below the Weather Channel).

Their favorite Web site? ESPN.com, focused on the non-digital subject of sports, visiting the site three times more than the national average. (Wait until next year, when Miller-McCune.com will certainly top the list.)

Six of the metro areas with the highest concentration of digitally savvy consumers were in the West with Austin, Texas, topping the list (12 percent digitally savvy) followed by Las Vegas, Sacramento and San Diego. Washington, D.C. ranked fifth. Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago, New York and San Francisco rounded out the top 10. Green Bay, Wisc., came in lowest.

Demographic-wise, the group skews young, male, employed in white-collar jobs, politically independent, most likely single or married with children. About 36 percent have a college degree or more vs. 24 percent of total consumers. Asians and U.S.-born Hispanics are the largest ethnic groups. They also fall into several distinct psychographic segments. (Which type are you? Take the quiz.)

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF here.

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