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Black Power on the Web

By Roger Crockett My father rarely disturbs me at work. But a couple months ago, he had something

particularly exciting to share. "Check this out," he said, as the penetrating jazz of saxophonist John Coltrane came streaming over the phone. Dad, a computer newbie, was digging the idea that he could play a music CD on his new Apple G4 computer.

Shopping online still worries him. But that might change if he could shop while listening to crystal-clear jazz at a music store's Web site. Or, if while browsing a golf e-tailer's site, dad the sports enthusiast could groove to Coltrane and watch video of Tiger Woods testing new drivers, might he buy a new club? "Sure might," he says.

Hear this, e-tailers: From my 67-year-old father dwelling in suburban San Jose, Calif., to black teens across the nation's inner cities, African Americans are migrating online faster than any other group. The number of black Netizens grew by 19% over the past year, to 8.2 million users, compared with 14% growth for adults overall, according to recent research from Nielsen/NetRatings.

SURGING DEMOGRAPHIC. And though blacks rank second to whites online in sheer numbers, there's room to grow since only 43% of blacks use the Net, compared with 60% of whites and 72% of Asian Americans. What's more, blacks spent more than 9.5 hours cruising the Web last August, a surge of 22% over the year before, while the average Net user's time online increased just 12%, to nearly 10.5 hours.

Why is this important, especially to Web merchants who serve the mainstream? As compound growth in overall Net use slows to just 6.6% through 2006, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, e-tailers must look for new consumers to drive sales. The number of black -- and Hispanic -- surfers is expected to surge 32% each over the next two years, nearly double the 17% growth estimated for overall Net usage.

The tunes and videos capable of streaming from today's Web are more congenial to the African-American soul than the static e-commerce sites of yesterday. Sure, most users appreciate a robust site. But the fact is, blacks spend $2.3 billion a year on entertainment ($523 million on prerecorded music), according to Target Market News Inc., a Chicago company that collects data on ethnic markets.

"HUGELY POPULAR." It's no surprise then that nearly 40% of black Netizens listen to music online, compared with 24% of surfers overall, according to New York Net researcher Cyber Dialogue. Almost a third watch movies and videos online, and 15% view sports clips via the Web -- higher by nine and six percentage points, respectively, than the interest expressed by surfers overall. "Entertainment content is hugely popular among black folks," says Omar Wasow, executive director of, the Web's most-visited black-oriented site, with 1.5 million unique visitors in November.

Certainly, chart-busting results is what any e-tailer wants. To help sell its

athletic gear, Nike smartly deploys streaming video and music with urban undertones throughout its site. The biggest hit? Last spring, began running video of Nike's popular basketball ads featuring a mix of professional and street ballers dribbling to a funky beat.

The video has turned out to be a magnet for potential shoppers, accounting for 68% of visitors and a 5 million downloads since its April launch, says Patrick O'Neill,'s general manager. The bulk of consumers are young blacks, who make up 45% of the site's traffic. "Sometimes, I go there just so I can take a look at the video," says James Ravenell Jr., a 27-year-old African American who visits at least twice a month. "Then I browse around and see if there are any sneakers I want to buy."

STICKY SURFERS. Like video, music provides a gravitational pull. Consider the success that is having. Since the fall of 2000, when the entertainment portal for blacks began premiering playable music CDs before they hit store shelves, traffic has soared like Minnie Ripperton hitting a high note. Unique visitors have nearly tripled from 264,000 in September 2000 to 742,000 in November 2001.

"Our stickiness has soared in the past six months because of the promotions and world premieres we've been doing," says Retha Hill, a BET vice-president. More people -- particularly those of color -- will stick to your site, too, if you stream some funky sights and sounds online. Chicago-based Crockett writes the Data Mine column for BusinessWeek's supplement

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