Emerging digital media in South Africa is a fast-moving, dynamic element of the converging IT, telecoms and broadcasting markets and consumers are ready to embrace it.

ICT research and analysis firm BMI-TechKnowledge (BMI-T) has completed research and analysis into this market space in order to glean insight into what products, devices and services consumers are likely to adopt and their perceptions and awareness of emerging media trends.

Astrid Hamilton, analyst and author of the report says that the research has revealed that both the high-end and mid-market South African households are already edging into the early majority phase of emerging digital media adoption – at least for those citizens who have access to PCs and the Internet.

However, the research has also uncovered stark differences between individual and overall household trends when contrasting age, income and population groups.

A household income of at least R8 000.00, owning a  mobile phone and having a television set at home were the minimum requirements for inclusion in the survey.

"Storing and sharing digital content has become a national pastime as nearly everyone is comfortable with electronic messaging, digital pictures and music. South Africans of all ages – but particularly the younger generation – love their PC and cellular devices, not only for work purposes but for all types of entertainment," says Hamilton.

Not surprisingly, the majority of music and video content currently stored on private PCs is not paid for, as consumer spend on digital content does not come close to matching the amount of digital content stored.

It is also likely that a sizable proportion of the music stored on iPods and similar devices is unpaid for as South Africans generally cannot purchase from websites like iTunes. This raises a key concern for media owners, since it indicates a high level of illegal use of content.

"What was surprising, however, was the high level of adoption South Africans have already reached, such as sharing personal photographs and playing games, not to mention participating in community groups on the internet," says Hamilton.

The research has also revealed that there is still a large gap in the market between the different population groups in respect of access to home services; whites, but also Indians and coloureds still have much greater adoption rates than black South Africans, although the historically disadvantaged communities are all moving up rapidly in this regard. Whites also have a much higher penetration for broadband usage than the other population groups.

A major contributing factor to this is that home access is greatly affected by household income, and the black population still has a lower household income on average than whites, although there is a distinct and rapidly expanding emerging black middle class who are very receptive to emerging digital media and already consume digital media to the same, if not greater extent as their white compatriots.

While PC and cellular content are widely diffused, there is still a lack of awareness of some of the emerging digital media types, notably Video on Demand, IPTV and podcasts, with only 24% of respondents having heard of IPTV and an even lower 15% having heard of podcasts. For Video on Demand, 39% of respondents indicated they might use it in future, although 44% said they don't know what it is.

"There is, however, high receptivity to most emerging digital media offerings. These include triple play offerings (voice, internet and pay TV from a single provider), and mobile TV – these being better known and understood by local users," Hamilton adds.