Early To Bed, Early To Rise, People Use Media More Than Research Would Surmise

An important new study based on a rarely done, but highly regarded form of media research - direct observation of media consumers - is raising new doubts about the veracity of conventional forms of audience measurement, and is providing new ammunition for proponents of new methods, especially Aribtron's portable people meters. The study, which was released Wednesday by Ball State University's Center For Media Design, also suggests planners and buyers may be grossly misallocating advertising budgets across the media mix based on actual media consumption patterns.

The study, in which researchers followed each of 101 people through an entire day - from the moment they woke to the moment they went to sleep - recorded their actual media usage behavior, which was compared to two common forms of media research: written diaries and telephone samples. The findings indicate that both those conventional forms of audience measurement dramatically under-report the amount of time people actually spend with media. For direct observation versus phone surveys the margin was more than two-to-one.



Most importantly, the study revealed pronounced differences among media in terms of the levels of under-reporting, a finding that suggests there may be inherent flaws in the media mix of many media plans, unless they have been accounting for such discrepancies.

The academic researchers found markedly higher daily usage of computers, online media and television than conventional research methods report. Books, magazines and radio also had significantly higher levels. Newspaper usage was marginally higher. (See data below.)

In a way, the study offers both good news and bad news for advertisers and the media alike. On the one hand, it shows that consumers use media far more than conventional industry research suggests. The researchers found consumers spent a total of 11 hours each day with the media they observed versus only 4.8 hours that consumers reported spending with media daily when participating in phone surveys.

The findings are also striking because the average consumer is spending so much of their day - 46 percent - using the seven media observed in this study. That does not account for other media they may utilize during the day including outdoor, in-store, direct mail, Yellow Pages, as well as a variety of non-traditional types. Those figures, however, are cumulative. The reality, said the researchers, is that people are simultaneous using many forms of media and are doing so while doing a number of other activities.

"Some of our most significant findings involve the complexity of how people really use the media because we are looking at the interrelationships among various media," said Bob Papper, a telecommunications professor at Ball State and study co-author.

While the study did not make explicit comparisons to certain electronic forms of media measurement, such as Nielsen Media Research's television people meters, or the Web-based systems used by comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings, it implied there is room for improvement for all forms of media measurement given the extremely mobile and simultaneous nature of the way consumers actually use media. Toward that end, they suggested a devices such as Arbitron's portable people meter, which consumers carry with them and which passively measure exposure to a variety of media, likely would be a material methodological improvement.

Daily Time Attributed To Media Via Each Method

Phone Written Direct Phone Survey Vs.
Survey Diary Observation Direct Observation
Computer* 21 52 64 +205%
Online 29 57 78 +169%
Television 121 278 319 +164%
Books 18 17 36 +100%
Magazines 8 10 14 +75%
Radio 74 132 129 +74%
Newspapers 15 26 17 +13%

Source: Ball State University, Center for Media Design. *Home computer.
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