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The average American spends more time using media devices â€”television, radio, iPods and cell phones â€” than any other activity while awake, says a new study from Ball State University. The Middletown Media Studies 2 (MMS2), the most comprehensive observational media use study ever undertaken, also found participants are adept at managing their use of two or more types of media at the same time.
Researchers from Ball State’s Center for Media Design (CMD) unveiled the key findings Sept. 26 in New York as part of Media Magazine’s Forecast 2006 program. The research team includes Mike Bloxham, CMD director of testing and assessment; Robert Papper, telecommunications professor; Mark Popovich, journalism professor; and Michael Holmes, communication studies professor spending this semester as a CMD faculty research fellow.
“As a society, we are consumers of media,” Papper said. “The average person spends about nine hours a day using some type of media, which is arguably in excess of anything we would have envisioned 10 years ago.”
Research team members spent the last several months shadowing about 400 people â€” collecting and analyzing data on 5,000 hours of media use â€” in Muncie and Indianapolis. Recording information every 15 seconds, researchers measured participants’ use of 15 media including television, books, magazines, cell phones, the Internet, instant messaging, e-mail and radio.
Bloxham said the subjects in the study were ordinary people, not a group of “media sophisticates who define themselves by the use of the latest media gadgets.”
Key findings of the research include:
About 30 percent of the observed waking day was spent with media as the sole activity versus 20.8 percent for work activity, while an additional 39 percent of the day was spent with media while involved in some other activity
In any given hour no less than 30 percent of those studied were engaged in some way with television, and in some hours of the day that figure rose to 70 percent
While television is still by far the dominant medium in terms of the time average Americans spend daily with media at 240.9 minutes, the computer has emerged as the second most significant media device at about 120 minutes
About 30 percent of all media time is spent exposed to more than one medium at a time
People ages 18 to 24 spend less time online than any other age group except those older than 65
Levels of concurrent media exposure were higher among those 40 to 65 than people 18 to 39
Women spend more time multitasking with two or more types of media than men
Use of the Web, e-mail and phones is substantially higher on Fridays than any other day of the week
“Television is still the 800-pound gorilla because of how much the average person is exposed to it,” Papper said. “However, that is quickly evolving. When we combine time spent on the Web, using e-mail, instant messaging and software such as word processing, the computer eclipses all other media with the single exception of television.”
“The introduction of the computer into the workplace also has created a whole class of multitaskers,” he said. “We thought young people would be better at multitasking, but computers have forced older workers to do more than one thing at a time to survive in the workplace.”
Bloxham said from an advertising perspective, the research has both good and bad news based on the array of new media outlets along with the challenge of more outlets competing for attention.
“Increased choice and interactivity is giving more control to consumers over their media experiences,” he said. “Media strategies should perhaps no longer be media centric, but should focus on consumers. For example, if media usage increases on Fridays based on the assumption that people are planning social activities, then this would be potentially the best day to advertise movies, drink and food specials and other products.”
About Middletown Media Studies 2, Ball State University and the Center for Media Design
Middletown Media Studies 2 builds upon Muncie’s reputation as “Middletown America,” a typical community in the United States. Muncie earned this distinction as a result of the Middletown Studies of the 1920s and ’30s by sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd. Findings from the research will be used to create a series of reports and white papers in the coming months. MMS2 is a follow-up to a 2004 study that found people consume twice as much media as previously thought.
Ball State University, located one hour northeast of Indianapolis in Muncie, Ind., is the third-largest public university in Indiana, with more than 17,700 students.
The Center for Media Design is a research and development facility focused on the creation, testing and practical application of digital technologies for business, classroom, home and community.