2 Opportunity |
8. This inquiry flows directly from the growth
of the Internet into a mass medium for communication, and distribution
of creative content. The Internet is no longer simply a resource
for information and research and a path for e-mail traffic: it
has become an interactive social forum, a means for supplying
entertainment, a way of allowing people to work more flexibly
and a tool which many use almost daily to manage finances and
to buy goods and services. It has provided new scope for people
to air their views freely and openly. While the benefits have
increased, however, so have attendant risks. The Internet is a
public space, something which may not be readily apparent, particularly
to children; and this inquiry has explored ways in which the inherent
risks might be managed.
9. The last three years have seen exponential
growth in the use of the Internet to transmit creative content.
Audio-visual material from a vast range of providers, including
programming from traditional broadcasters, is available on the
Internet. In addition, films, music, games and images can all
be downloaded with ever greater ease as broadband speeds increase.
We considered the impact of some of these developments in detail
in our Report on New Media and the Creative Industries.
10. Underlying the use of the Internet for the
transmission of creative content is the widespread availability
of broadband and the faster connection times offered. The Government
told us that 99.8% of households are now able to access broadband,
and 88.4% of all Internet connections in September 2007 used broadband.
Digital files containing audio-visual material are large and,
in practice, can only be distributed using the higher connection
speeds available through broadband. 49.2% of all Internet connections
in September 2007 had a speed greater than 2Mbps, compared to
35.5% of connections in December 2006.
11. Research by Ofcom published in 2007 indicated
that 99% of children accessed the Internet, most often at home
and at school:
||Any access: 8-17 year olds
||Most often access: 8-17 year olds
|PC / laptop at home
|School / college
|Any internet use
|Don't use the internet
|Use internet but not at home
Source: Ofcom - Children, Young People & Online
Content, October 2007; survey base of 513 children aged between
8 and 17
12. Along with the faster broadband speeds which
are now becoming more widely available, the Internet is more and
more frequently being accessed by devices other than computers,
such as mobile telephones, iPods, personal digital assistants
(PDAs) and games consoles. All allow access "on the move"
and, for children, free from parental supervision. O2
cited figures showing that 50% of 10 year olds and 90% of 12 year
olds have mobile phones.
The Children's Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS),
in its response to the Byron Review, referred to research by Childwise
suggesting that 96% of children in the UK had access to mobile
phones by the age of 11 and that "more or less a third"
were using mobile devices to access the Internet.
13. The appeal of access through portable devices
is likely to grow as the range of devices increases. The Internet
Watch Foundation told us that, in Japan, there was more access
to the Internet via mobile technologies than from fixed access
points and that there was "every reason to think that this
trend will apply to the UK as more and more portable electronic
devices come on stream".
T-Mobile told us that consumers valued the ability to generate
their own content and update their personal social networks wherever
and whenever they choose.
Mr Bartholomew, Head of Public Affairs at O2, described
the Internet access facility on the iPod touch and the iPhone
as "fantastic" and "like having a computer with
a smaller screen".
Social networking and video-sharing websites
14. For the purposes of this inquiry, perhaps
the most significant development of the last two or three years
has been the growth in social networking and the ease with which
users can upload and share content, principally images, comment
and videos. A great deal of this content is created by users themselves,
hence the term "user-generated content". This "new
generation" Internet is frequently termed Web 2.0: Google
told us that whereas Web 1.0 "was characterised by static
websites, download of content, limited use of search engines and
surfing from one website to another", Web 2.0 "represents
a fundamental shift away from this model, towards a more dynamic
and interactive Internet where content is generated by users,
uploaded by others and enjoyed within online communities".
15. In 2005, the concept of a social networking
website was largely unknown. In the last two years, there has
been an explosion in the number of users of such sites to converse
online with friends. Orange told us that participation in the
UK in social networking sites was the highest in Europe, with
24.9 million unique
visitors, amounting to 78% of the total online population in the
UK. T-Mobile told
us that social networking and interactive sites were at the forefront
of driving mobile phone usage: eight out of the twenty websites
most frequently visited using mobile devices are social networking
16. Bebo, a social networking site popular in
the UK and targeted at people aged under 30, told us that social
networking sites have strong benefits and that Web 2.0 services
(i.e. those based upon sharing of material among online communities
and dissemination of user-generated content) offered enormous
creative opportunities, not least through citizen journalism,
as well as providing a forum for developing digital literacy and
the ability to express yourself online and to make "informed
choices". Bebo suggested that such services created "social
capital" and filled a vacuum in community engagement.
MySpace argued that social networking performed an important function
in the sociological development of young people, assisting them
in forming an adult identity and expressing themselves.
17. Some sites are designed purely to host images
and videos. Flickr, launched in 2004, was one of the first sites
to become prominent in the UK; between 3 million and 5 million
photos are understood to be uploaded to Flickr daily.
Other sites include YouTube, which describes itself as "a
leading video hosting site and the premier destination to watch
and share original videos worldwide".
Approximately ten hours' worth of content is uploaded to YouTube
18. The popular appeal and astonishing growth
of YouTube and other such sites has made them assets worth acquiring
at a time of industry consolidation. Flickr was acquired by Yahoo!
in March 2005; YouTube was acquired by Google in autumn 2006 for
$1.65 billion; and Bebo was acquired by AOL in March 2008 for
$850 million. We note that one social networking website, even
though it does not currently attract large advertising volumes,
has been valued at up to $15 billionFacebook.
19. The intricacy of video games now available
on DVD and via the Internet is in stark contrast to the primitive
games (such as Space Invaders and Pacman) which marked the birth
of the genre. Games can be played on dedicated games consoles,
personal computers (PCs) and other devices; they have highly realistic
graphics and are now labyrinthine in their complexity, offering
many levels of play and options within each game. According to
the Government's written submission, 59% of the UK population
play video games, the average age of gamers is 28, and one in
four women play video games.
We understand from ELSPA that one in three men plays video games.
20. Increasingly, games are played online, with
players competing against others in real time. Online games may
be constantly updated, with new features being introduced by games
publishers. Some games, known as MMORGs (Massively Multiplayer
Online Roleplaying Games), are virtual worlds with possibly thousands
of gamers logged in from separate computers or games consoles,
each assuming the role of a fictional character, often playing
a role or undertaking a quest or activity which can unfold over
a series of weeks. The industry forecasts that online gaming will,
in time, overtake downloadable or hard-copy games.
21. The UK has a thriving video games industry.
According to ELSPA (the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers
Association), approximately 35% of software sold in Europe emanates
from creative studios in the UK; and the UK industry employs around
22,000 people and attracts significant inward investment from
the US and Japan.
Until recently, the UK's position in the games industry (in terms
of revenue generated) was second only to that of the US and Japan,
generating sales in excess of £2.3 billion in 2006";
the UK has now been displaced into fourth place by Canada, which
offers significant tax concessions to stimulate the industry locally.
Despite this, witnesses from ELSPA (representing games publishers)
and TIGA (representing games developers) described the outlook
as "very positive" and believed that the industry was
set to grow.
22. Various witnesses stressed the potential
benefits of games. Mr Carrick-Davies, Chief Executive of Childnet
International, told us that playing video games "improves
children's confidence, their sense of social standing [and] their
ability to multi-task".
The Government gave examples of how games had been used in curriculum-based
learning and training of the military in communications and decision-making
skills; and it said that video games could engage and motivate
learners, including those disaffected or previously hard to reach.
Tiga (a trade body for games developers) also pointed out that
so-called "serious games" are being researched for possible
use in military, educational, health and training applications.
The Interactive Software Federation of Europe noted that video
games can provide a "playful way to hone IT skills".
23. Dr Byron, in her report, acknowledged that
there are potential educational benefits to some video games,
particularly in terms of motivating pupils, but she argued that
these should not be overstated: "Most researchers and certainly
educationalists would argue that using a video game
learning is not in itself the key to success. It is the context
around the child and the technology (i.e. the skills of the teacher)
that determines whether it becomes a successful learning experience".
Professor Livingstone, who jointly undertook on behalf of Ofcom
a review of research into potential harmful content, also questioned
the strength of evidence that playing video games benefited children.
24. One of the best-known examples of a virtual
forum is Second Life, a three-dimensional "world"
in which participants can assume a virtual persona (or "avatar"),
meet and communicate with others, create "anything you can
imagine", trade virtual goods on a virtual exchange, acquire
virtual "land" and build upon it.
The Government told us that virtual worlds offered benefits to
both the consumer and to public and private sector organisations:
it observed that the National Physical Laboratory had been using
Second Life for scientific knowledge transfer with colleagues
in NASA, and that universities and other bodies were piloting
the use of Second Life for use in healthcare and other
fields of research.
4 Fifth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 509-I Back
Ev 342 Back
Office for National Statistics 20 November 2007 Back
Office for National Statistics 20 November 2007 Back
Carphone Warehouse Mobile Youth Report 2006, Ev 66 Back
A market research agency specialising in research concerning children Back
Ev 8 Back
Ev 45 Back
Ev 60 Back
Q 136 Back
Ev 116 Back
A "unique visitor" is a unit of traffic to a website,
in which each visitor is counted only once in a given timeframe Back
Ev 69 Back
Ev 60 and 61 Back
Ev 144 Back
Q 383 Back
www.techcrunch.com 13 November 2007 Back
Ev 115 Back
Q 313 Back
Ev 281 Back
Ev 342 Back
Information supplied by the Entertainment and Leisure Software
Publishers Association (ELSPA) Back
Q 462 Back
Ev 164 Back
Ev 164 Back
Q 627 Back
Q 452 Back
Q 3. See also Microsoft Ev 32 Back
Ev 343 Back
Ev 163 Back
Ev 386 Back
Byron Review, page 155 Back
Professor Sonia Livingstone Q3 Back
See secondlife.com Back
Ev 343 Back