As the Presidential contest came down to the wire, and the economy blew up in October, Web traffic took a newsy turn. CNN edged past last month’s cable news Web traffic winner MSNBC, according to comScore‘s Oct data. Of particular interest here is the "time spent" metric in comScore’s monthlies. While MSNBC seemed to be peaking at just under a billion minutes of mindshare, CNN experienced a 23% gain in hang time against a 7% hike in audience. That sort of lopsided spike suggests an increase in online video viewing. Also, CNN contains the popular CNNMoney site, which no doubt benefited from the rapid fire bad economic news throughout October. The time spent metric is also revealing in comScore’s overall numbers, which show a 1% expansion of the Internet audience in October but a 5% rise in time spent. Both digital analysts and market researchers argue that in the deepening recession, the Internet will benefit as a cheap, flat fee source of media for Americans who are "uber-cocooning," as BrainReserve analyst Faith Popcorn tags the trend.

The time spent metric does not just shine on video-centric sites, however. Outside of the top ten properties, for instance, Comedy Central (5.2mln unique, 31MM hours) has a relatively short overall hang time despite its full episode library of shows. Meanwhile, GSN‘s site (7.1mln uniques, 545MM minutes) cracks the code for stickiness with on-site casual game play. Likewise, QVC.com (4.9mln unique, 221MM minutes) has some video but boasts one of the Web’s other most attractive and sticky pursuits, online shopping. Interactivity, not massive media streaming, remains the Web’s true strength.

Viacom properties had mixed fortunes in Oct, with video-drenched MTV down 28% in uniques and off 21% in hang time, dropping from 7th to 10th position among cable Web properties. Meanwhile its game-heavy sister Nick.com (+28% uniques, +42% time) seemed to benefit from a new TV

season and kids coming indoors.

The biggest indication that the economic downturn is affecting online traffic comes from the most obvious source, however. CNBC went from 1.5mln uniques in Sept and 69MM minutes spent to 2.1mln uniques in Oct and a staggering increase to 242MM minutes. Historically, financial news sites tend to fall off during economic woes, as audiences hate dwelling on bad news and their own shrinking portfolios. Not that you need to tell you—but this recession clearly is different on a number of levels.

(Steve Smith is a lapsed academic turned media critic and consultant. He is the Digital Media Editor for Min, conference programmer for Mediapost, and longtime columnist for eContent Magazine).

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