Media Metrics: A Day in the Media Life

Media has become the fabric of our lives. Once upon a time, our family and other social relations were the fabric of our lives, or at least that's the way the story goes. But in our postmodern era, nothing is real until it's on one of the major networks, cable news, the Internet, or another media feed. Proximity is nothing; connectivity is everything. We all know this to be true. Just look at that group of friends walking down the street "together": each one is on a cell phone with someone else. Or look at that individual walking alone, tethered to an iPod.

This observation has been validated and quantified recently by soon-to-be-released research from Ball State University's Center for Media Design. The Muncie, Indiana-based Ball State has a history of major sociological studies. The Middletown Studies, which began in the early 1900s, shed light on the impact of technologies on American society. You may recall the first of the Center for Media Design's Middletown Media Studies, published last year, in which we first learned of the disturbingly high incidence of concurrent media exposure -- multitasking.

We also learned that when it comes to interaction with media, people don't always do what they say they do. Self-reported behaviors, as collected by the telephone and diaries, often bore little resemblance to those recorded by trained observers. As a result, the Center chose to rely on its labor-intensive but data-rich observation methodology for its most recent survey, Middletown Media Study II.

Taking "a day in the life" research to a new level, this study allows us to look closely at a day in the media life of more than 350 Americans. Early results reveal that we spend more time with media than any other waking activity -- 69.5 percent of our time, to be exact -- and on average, much more time than we sleep, more time than we spend at work, and, for most people, even more waking hours than we spend at home in a given day.

In fact, if we do a gross count, double counting the concurrent media exposures (as in GRP, gross ratings points), we spend the equivalent of 94 percent of our waking day with media. The Middletown Media Study II recorded activities in the waking day of 350 respondents in 15-second increments for each of 15 media types, 17 activity types, and four locations. Uniquely consumer-centric, the study provides a window into the consumer's day with a broad array of media, set in the context of real-life activities.

Our first look at the data has been dizzying. For example, the profusion of media that runs throughout our day makes the day-in-the-life media-planning concept a reality. But how much do we really know about how each medium weaves its way into our day? And how much do we know about how each medium primes us to be more or less receptive at different times and places? Middletown Media Study ii looked at a number of daily life activities. Media exposure occurred amid these activities 58 percent of the time.

The type of singularly unfettered exposure we hold in our mind's eye as we plan media occurs only 42 percent of the time. And if we long for those days when consumers focused on a single medium, the incidence is significantly lower. Most of our media exposures are truly woven into the fabric of our daily activities, for better or worse. Despite the desire to reach consumers at their most receptive moments, our notions of relative media importance are heavily colored by archetypical in-home media behaviors. In-home, television is still king, used by consumers 52 percent of the time.

We know that radio doesn't take a back seat when consumers are in the car, where it's heard 47 percent of the time. But after this major difference, in-home and in-car media exposures are not all that different; each dominated by one major medium, with a list of secondary media. Both suggest a similar style of media planning, starting with the dominant medium and using other media to fill or extend for tactical reasons. What about work? Study participants who spend any of their time at work, including part-time and occasionally, spent almost half of their waking hours in the workplace.

Unlike the media-dominated home and car environments, where media consumption is the largest single activity measured, work is dominated by, well, work! Alan Greenspan smiles as we report that 77 percent of the time when we're at work, we're devoted to work; less than 9 percent of the time is spent exclusively on media exposure. That compares to 21 percent of in-car time and 44 percent of at-home time. While work may not be media-friendly in terms of focused attention, it is media-intensive, exhibiting somewhat more concurrent media exposure than even the media-dominated home environment. But the most unique characteristic of media exposure in the workplace is the lack of a dominant medium.

Unlike the TV-dominated home or the radio-dominated car, the workplace has a somewhat egalitarian media quintet, each reaching consumers between one-eighth and one-quarter of their total time at work. Applications software, e-mail, the Web, music, and radio, in that order, add up to a gross 85 percent of the workday. All other media, together, only add 26 percent, again, double counting concurrent exposures as in GRPs. While a single medium can provide mass exposure in both the home and the car, it takes five media to do the job at work. Of course, at least three of these media are delivered via computer. Add streaming radio and CD/DVD playback, and all of these capabilities can be delivered via PC. Only three of the five media are commercialized, and all could be considerably improved. While no one media form dominates the workplace, the small screen certainly does.

A unique benefit of the Middletown Media Studies is their consumer-centric perspective on media strategy. Rather than considering media individually, as is done by most measurement systems, we can look at all consumer media behaviors simultaneously and in context. A holistic picture emerges of consumers engaged with devices that simultaneously provide work tools, information (both business and personal), communications (ditto), and entertainment.

Remember convergence? Just when we thought it was dead, it suddenly appears, and second, it appears in an unanticipated setting -- work. While we debated the matter, consumers went ahead and began converging the media themselves. The Middle Media Studies are offering the types of consumer insights and potentially game-changing business challenges that offer the opportunity for media people to prove that they're the true agency creatives. How will consumers interact with media in the near future, and what can we do about it? Stay tuned!

Jim Spaeth is founding partner of Sequent Partners.

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