February 26, 2004, 10:19 AM — The number of U.S. users of the Internet has passed 150 million, more than seven times the number recorded in the initial 1996 study of the Internet carried out by comScore Networks Inc.'s Media Metrix unit. And from a fledgling industry in 1996, overall spending online in the U.S. is set to top $100 billion for the first time in 2004, comScore said.
At the time of that first study, broadband Internet access was virtually unknown in the U.S., but now 35 percent of U.S. home users have cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) access, comScore said.
The number of users has grown dramatically in the eight years of the Media Metrix studies, and so has the scope of the application of the Internet. In the mid-1990s, the most-visited sites included ISP (Internet service provider) sites, search engines and university sites. Eight years on, the popularity rankings are dominated by information and content delivery sites and e-commerce sites, comScore said.
In January 2004, 55 percent of the U.S. Internet population -- 83.5 million people -- visited the eBay Inc. or Amazon.com Inc. sites, pushing these companies into the forefront of U.S retailing. The travel industry is a major beneficiary of the switch to online services, rising from almost nothing in 1996 to US$41 billion in consumer sales in 2003, according to comScore.
A great deal of consolidation has happened among Internet properties in the last eight years. Three of 1996's top ten sites -- AOL.com, Netscape.com and Compuserve.com -- plus the 49th-ranked Pathfinder.com, are now all owned by Time Warner Inc.
AOL.com, the top site in 1996, reached around 6 million people, or 40 percent audience reach. The top-ranked site in 2004, owned by Yahoo Inc., is a network of sites which reaches over 100 million people per month, more than 70 percent of the Internet population, comScore said.