In light of the importance the Internet has as a channel of commerce, it is important to understand consumer motivations for Internet use (Eighmey & McCord, 1998; Lohse & Spiller, 1998; Schonberg, Cofino, Hoch, Podlaseck, & Spraragen, 2000). In the absence of motivations for Internet use, there can be no motivations for e-commerce use, so Internet use motivations are an important antecedent to e-commerce activities (Stafford, 2003b). The Internet is a telecommunications medium, but it is also far more than a computer-mediated communication channel. In its evolution, the Internet evolved from a basic telecommunications network, to a consumer communications and entertainment medium, to a converged channel of commercial and telecommunications media that combine the utilities of familiar entertainment and communications media such as telephones, radio, and television, along with emerging computer network functionalities. While remaining at its core a network for the distribution of information and telecommunications services, it has evolved into a combined channel for the delivery of other, richer media—become a medium of conveyance for many separate media delivered simultaneously, or a meta-medium (Stafford, Stafford, & Shaw, 2002). In the past, understanding Internet motivations strictly related to computer use was sufficient to characterize Internet user motivations, but in the converged meta-medium of the modern day, we should consider a wider range of potential uses and motivating gratifications arising from use of this complex and converged medium. Media uses and gratifications (U&G) has been a useful theoretical platform for understanding Internet use in this emerging age of media convergence. This perspective focuses on the process of using the Internet medium, and the gratifi- cations related to the content provided by the network. More recently, Internet U&G research has demonstrated additional motivations for Internet use that expand beyond the traditional usage process and media content motivations found in U&G studies of conventional media. These motivations span usage process and content to include considerations of social motivations for network usage, which is a gratification that traditional media have not generally been able to supply to users (Stafford et al., 2002). These new and emerging media usage gratifications for the Internet are important for site and service operators to understand, if they wish to successfully motivate customer use of and loyalty to their resource. These new motivations are potential differentiators between operators within the Internet medium as well as between the Internet and conventional promotional media.
It has long been known that media usage is not a random or undirected activity; like all rational human behavior, there are discernable motivations for media use (Katz, 1959). Early U&G research in the radio and television era determined that audiences are not passive consumers of media (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974; Rubin, 1981), and this “active use” tenet of U&G research means that media researchers can find theoretically compelling approaches to simulate more involved media use, which is surely a beneficial outcome to the media and their commercial sponsors.
Media choice is motivated by individual uses and the individual goals related to those individual uses, which has come to be characterized as media usage “gratifications” (Lin, 1977). In this sense, media are like any other product or service that might be marketed to customers. In markets, even media markets, consumers make choices about what to use in an active and selective manner (Levy & Windahl, 1984). This means that media operators cannot presume a captive audience and must strive to understand their audience usage motivations in order to provide a compelling and attractive media experience. This perspective has come to be called the “niche theory” of media use, wherein consumer time for media use is a finite and limited resource that must be actively competed for by available media in product-market fashion, on the presumption that time spent by consumers with one media reduces available time to be spent with other competing media (e.g., Dimmick, Chen, & Li, 2004).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Gratifications: What people derive from use—the “why” of media use motivations.
Uses: Things people do with media—the “how” of media use motivations.
Uses and Gratifications: Customer activities and the enjoyment that derives from such activities, particularly in a mass media context.