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Opinion: Japan crisis shows web still trailing TV

TV remains top info source - but web is gaining

Millions of Japanese people flocked to internet and social media sites following this month's earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis, but television retained its place as the primary source of information for most people, according to two surveys released on Tuesday.

The data highlights the growing importance of internet-based information sources in Japan, but underlines the continued dominance of traditional media and the trust Japan has in its well-funded public broadcaster, NHK.

Major news sites saw big jumps in their audience following the natural disaster that hit on March 11.

The business-focused Nikkei daily doubled its online audience to four million people and Reuters attracted a million Japanese users with a steady diet of video news, according to Nielsen NetRatings Japan. The company's internet audience data is based on access via PC from homes and offices for the week of March 7 to March 13.

One of the biggest jumps was recorded by Yahoo Weather, which instantly transmits earthquake information from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). East Japan was shaken by aftershocks many times each hour in the days following the initial magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and the JMA website was often slow or overloaded. The government agency's audience shot up to 2.9 million from 830,000 people the week before.

Transport and infrastructure company websites saw lots more visitors with the most impressive jump registered by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

Late on the evening of March 13, the power utility announced a series of planned blackouts and told customers to check its website to see if or when their neighborhood would be affected. Predictably, the website instantly came under a crush of users and access was close to impossible. The information was later mirrored by sites such as Yahoo or Google.

TEPCO's audience jumped from 500,000 to over five million during the period, said NetRatings.

Social media sites saw increased use, with Twitter increasing its PC audience by a third. The NetRatings data doesn't count mobile phone use, which is an important platform for social media use in Japan.

Ustream more than doubled its audience to 1.4 million people thanks to live earthquake coverage from Japan's major TV networks and news conferences. Skype saw a 600 percent increase in the number of people accessing its website - the service was one of the most reliable ways to call overseas as conventional phone circuits were overloaded for days - and the Yahoo Volunteer site also registered big gains as people sought to donate money.

Despite the gains, the internet remains far behind television as a primary source of information.

A survey of 3,224 people in the Tokyo metropolitan area by Nomura Research Institute found 80 percent turned to public television broadcaster NHK as a source of news. The organisation ran non-stop news for more than a week after the quake and news continues to dominate its programme schedule. Trust in the broadcaster has risen by almost a third since the disaster began, the survey found.

Commercial TV networks were ranked second with 57 percent of those surveyed tuning in, followed by internet portal sites at 43 percent, and newspapers (physical, not online) at 36 percent. Social media sites were ranked seventh at 18 percent, putting the medium behind TV, newspapers and internet news sites, but ahead of radio.

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