Media Usage Tops Consumers' Daily Activities
These and other findings are at the core of media usage studies known as the "Middletown Media Studies," which were conducted by Ball State University's Center for Media Design in Muncie, Indiana. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, the research offers the first detailed look at how consumers actually use media throughout the day--from the time they wake up through the workday and social commitments, until the time they go to sleep. The average time spent observing consumers' media usage habits was 12.9 hours per day.
The Ball State researchers observed nearly 400 people, conducting more than 5,000 hours of observation, and gathered nearly 1.2 million pieces of data. In fact, they say that data on consumers' media habits was sent roughly every 15 seconds via a personal device with a touch screen.
The researchers found that TV was viewed on average four hours a day per person during the time they observed them, while they logged a little over two hours a day on the PC. They also found that over 30 percent of the media day, consumers use two or more media per day. TV usage dominates the home and radio dominates the car, but after that, media use is more variable. The researchers found that nearly 30 percent of the people surveyed watch TV outside the home, accounting for 9.4 percent of all TV viewing.
It is no surprise that PC usage is highest at work. However, the researchers found that while desktop-based software was the computer media activity most accessed, it remains "untapped as a communications platform by a marketing community which has otherwise embraced the Web and e-mail and which is actively exploring the opportunities of instant messaging." The researchers acknowledged potential limits on what consumers would be willing to accept via desktop marketing, and cited concerns over adware.
Where concurrent media exposure is concerned, it's defined by Ball State as "exposure to content from multiple media simultaneously available through shared or shifting attention"--and 96.3 percent of the sample indulged in concurrent media usage 30.7 percent of the media day. Ball State calculated 120 possible different combinations of concurrent media exposure. Researchers found that multitasking is not the exclusive province of kids and tech-savvy adults: Consumers ages 40 and over were actually involved in more concurrent media episodes than people from 18 to 39, according to Mike Bloxham, director of testing and assessment at Ball State's Center for Media Design.
The top 10 media pairings were TV and the Web, which scored the longest concurrent use of media in terms of time. When on the Web, many people are also using other media. That pairing was followed by TV and e-mail, then TV and the phone, TV and software, software and music, radio and software, TV and music, the Web and music, TV and newspapers, and software and the telephone.
While the majority of computer use involves work and work-related communication (via e-mail), researchers found that virtually every computer user they observed also used the computer at home. They found that Web use is substantial both at home and outside of traditional work hours.
The study found that there is a slight but clear increase in e-mail use at the very end of the day. Interestingly, on Fridays, e-mail and phone use are both substantially higher than on any other day of the week, perhaps due to people making plans for the weekend. If that's the case, this reinforces the view that Friday is potentially the best day of the week to advertise related products such as movies, spirits, restaurants, and other special programs and events.
When it comes to the sexes, both men and women spend about the same amount of time in front of a computer, but they do different things. Men used software (79.4 percent versus 67.8 percent) and instant messaging (12.6 percent versus 6 percent) more than women. Women used the Web (70.8 percent versus 63.9 percent) and e-mail (53.6 percent versus 39.2 percent) more.
Women almost double the amount of time men spend reading overall (41.6 minutes to 24.1 minutes), and they spend more time reading newspapers (13.2 minutes to 11.1 minutes), magazines (10.4 minutes to 4.2 minutes), and books (16.6 minutes to 8.8 minutes). Women, perhaps not surprisingly, spend more time on the phone overall (46.4 minutes to 37.9 for men), but men use mobile phones slightly more than women (12.1 to 11.5).
People under the age of 35 tend to be more involved with digital media, while those over 55 tend to be more involved with print media. The exception is television, where media usage increases with age, ranging from a low of 182.6 minutes (25-34) to a peak of 364.9 minutes per day for those 65 and older. The 18-24 group spends more minutes per day than any other group on instant messaging (18.3), mobile phones (20.4), music (100), VCR use (47.4), and game consoles (36.4). The 18- to-24-year-olds scored lowest in radio use and print media. Although this group was the highest in mobile phone use, it was so low in using land lines that overall phone use was the second-lowest of all groups.
The researchers found that 18- to-24-year-olds spend a fair amount of time online, but they're still below all other age groups except 65+. The youngest group, 18-24, watches less TV than most groups, but even for them, TV is still clearly the dominant medium.
The 25-34 age group spends more minutes per day than any other group on total computer use (all applications put together) and DVD use. The group also scores high in specific computer applications along with mobile phone use, music, and video. The 25- to-34-year-olds were the lowest in TV usage and among the lowest in all phone and all print media.
The 35-44 group scores the highest in e-mail, software, and phone use, but it's high in all computer-related areas. In the middle of the age groupings, 35-44 tended to come in near the middle of most media activities. The 45- to-54-year-old group came out on top for Web browsing (although barely ahead of 25-34), and magazine use (14.7 minutes). This group came in at the bottom for book reading and game console use.
The 55- to-64-year-olds were the dominant radio listeners and the biggest readers of newspapers (34.7 minutes) and users of VCRs. But this group also scored high in most computer applications, phone, and books. This group listened to far less music than any other group.
One thing the study did not measure is how people consume advertising content. But, as Bob Papper--Ball State's professor of telecommunications--notes, the researchers know the average time people spent channel surfing. Thus, in the next round of research, they can begin to extract this data.
Future iterations of the Middletown Media Studies are likely to break down media use even further by income, education, employment, and political affiliation, and even by TV genre and program and Web site type. Surveying media use by consumers' personalities is also in the works, as well as community and religious involvement.