Good news for paid content. The internet is closing in on television as a popular source of entertainment for consumers. According to a new study from Edelman, more people go to the internet for entertainment than ever before.

Those numbers still need to grow substantially for online advertising revenue to outpace the “digital dimes” that it currently earns compared to TV, but there is a bit of silver lining in terms of charging for online content. Consumers this year are more likely than ever to chose paying for content versus making personal concessions to access free content. That means media companies may be moving toward a reprieve from the “tyranny of free” online.

Edelman’s fourth annual Trust in the Entertainment Industry survey found this year that the internet isn’t just used for information searching anymore (shocker!). Edelman asked 1,000 18-54 year olds in the U.S and U.K. whether they considered the internet a source of entertainment. In 2009, only 27% of 18-34 said yes. In 2010, that number jumped to 42%.

Meanwhile, the internet is now the second most popular form of entertainment behind television in both countries. About 58% of Americans turn to the TV first for entertainment, followed by 32% who turn on their computers first. In the U.K., 57% prefer television, and 30% choose the web first.


Part of the reason for that digital entertainment growth is the uptick in social networking online. In the U.S., 73% of 18-24 year olds (and 61% in the U.K.) consider social networks as a form of entertainment. Meanwhile, 50%
(U.S.) and 56% (U.K.) of respondents aged 35-49 said the same.

Now if online video actually started to surpass television viewing we’d have an advertising game on our hands.

But perhaps more importantly in the near term, the study found that consumers now value accessibility of content over its price. In 2008, respondents valued free content above all else. This year, 65% of U.S. respondents said it was important
to access entertainment on a number of different devices, while 59% of U.K. respondents said the same. Meanwhile, 58% (U.S.) and 53% (U.K.) said they’d be
willing to pay for content if it was portable across devices.

Also, most consumers (89% in the U.K.) said they would not be willing to part with personal information, even if it meant receiving access to free content. Considering how much information consumers seem to give away online today with little concern, that number should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, respondents said that they were more willing to pay for content from entertainment companies they trust, and trust of entertainment companies was at a three-year high among those aged 18-34. In the U.K., 31% trusted entertainment companies in 2009, compared to 34% this year. In the U.S. trust is up 2 points to 34% as well.