If you want to find out my television usage, you are better off asking my wife, who is quick to point out," You've been watching those goddamned basketball games for three straight days!" Trying to explain that 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on consecutive Thursday and Friday nights is not really "all day" is pretty much throwing water on sand. Although it is hard to argue with someone who says, "Why is South Carolina still playing — is that the NIT?" (Just kidding, she wouldn't know the NCAAs from the NIT if they both bit her on the leg).
Since almost nobody has just one medium on at a time anymore, it’s really hard to calculate your time spent in front of this screen or that one. Thanks to the crushing commercial load of network prime-time shows, you need to have a laptop or your phone open to social media so that you don't put a gun to your head before the show resumes. I can comfortably get through the text-heavy Weekend Review section of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal during just a couple of TV shows. If I were asked if I'm watching TV or reading the paper, how do I respond — especially since I was also texting one of my kids?
In fact, if you add up my media time, it will tend to approach about 40 hours a day. And that doesn't include media that have no screens, like the car radio on the way to the gym and grocery story. Or the billboards I pass. I spend an hour and a half reading newspapers, but only one is dead-tree, the other is on a tablet. I read lots more news online or on my phone throughout the day, often breaking news on the Times or WSJ Web sites. So what do I put in the diary under newspapers?
How much time anyone spends with media is not just a parlor game, but it is supposed to reassure advertisers that their commercials are being watched. Really? Between the remote control and my cable-provided DVR, I hardly ever see commercials any more — even during must-watch live events (go, Tar Heels!!) because as soon as they go to commercial, I go to reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” or, if I am really hard-up, a soccer game. Soccer never has commercials and oddly seems to be on 24 hours a day. If I am really lucky, the fans are rioting in the stands.
There is someone in my house (who will go nameless) who routinely falls asleep in front of the TV, often until the wee hours of the morning. If there was a People Meter in our cable box, it would virtually vibrate with glee and drop her into the "heavy TV watcher" audience box, although I am not sure who buys "people who watch seven hours of ‘Law and Order’ reruns four nights a week."
Regardless of your predictive algorithms, recall diaries, minute-by-minute tune-in data, etc. I think it's impossible to keep up with how quickly and effortlessly audiences shift from one medium to another — and the steps they take along the way to avoid seeing your ads.