NewsWise -http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/503440/

Newswise — The time-honored, industry standards of telephone surveys and personal diaries fail to completely capture how much media Americans use in their daily lives, information that could have major implications for the media and advertising industries.

Researchers from Ball State University’s Center for Media Design found that media use by adults is more than double the extent reported by standard survey research methods. Called the Middletown Media Studies, the research asked questions and used methods that are more extensive than those found in traditional media-measurement methods.

First, along with the phone surveys and diaries, researchers observed—or shadowed—101 people for a day, from wake up to bed time, and recorded their actual media consumption.

Second, the studies looked at a wide range of media—television, radio, telephone, Internet, books, newspapers, etc.—unlike typical industry surveys that target only one medium.

“We found that phone surveys are largely useless in determining media behavior. You might as well throw darts,” said Bob Papper, a telecommunications professor and study co-author.

That does not mean phone survey research is irrelevant, researchers said. All of the methods have certain weaknesses, and phone surveys provided useful comparisons.

“Phone surveys reflect a person’s perception of their media use but not their actual behavior,” said Michael Holmes, professor of communication studies and a member of the research team. “Diaries give more detail than phone surveys, but we found observation provides much more detail than diaries.”

Television viewing patterns are among the most glaring examples of the limitations of current measuring techniques. Phone survey participants, overall, watch television an average of two hours per day. Diarists logged 4 hours and 38 minutes a day, but those under observation watched 5 hours and 19 minutes per day. That’s a 164 percent difference between phone surveys and observations.

That pattern between the measurement methods held true in most cases (time in minutes).

Media …………… Phone Survey ….. Diary ….. Observation ….. Phone survey to observation difference
Home 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%

“I think 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,” Papper said.

The “X” factor: multitasking in a media-rich society

Papper, Holmes and Mark Popovich, a journalism professor, pored over previous studies that looked into the amount of time people simultaneously use multiple media—studies that were mostly based on telephone surveys.

“We suspect people in phone surveys either didn’t or couldn’t accurately answer questions about simultaneous media use,” Holmes said.

The researchers also found diarists tended not to make entries about short-term, repeated media uses, such as making or receiving phone calls, listening to the radio and e-mailing. So when all media were factored in, observers made three times as many notations of media use than consumers logged in their diaries.

“For example, the observation study results suggest that not only did people watch the television programs they logged in their diaries, but they probably also opened the mail, made a telephone call or checked e-mail during a commercial; these uses tend to be omitted from diaries,” Papper said.

The observation results also showed that people spend almost a quarter of their media day using more than one medium at the same time, a figure researchers called “astonishingly high.”

“We are really only beginning to dig into the results on multitasking,” Holmes said. “We intend to develop a clear picture of simultaneous multiple media use and how Americans are responding to the convergence of media technology.”

How the studies were done

The three media usage studies were done in July and August 2003 with people living in “Middletown,” America – Muncie and Delaware County, Indiana. The name comes from landmark sociological studies done by Robert and Helen Lynd in the 1920s and ’30s that cast Muncie as the typical American town, or “Middletown.”

Along with shadowing 101 people, researchers collected 359 individual diaries. The phone survey of 401 individuals asked questions from various Pew Research Center surveys and the results between the larger national Pew studies and the local phone survey were strikingly similar.

“The research is part of an ongoing program to investigate how the relationship between consumers and different media is changing in the light of advances in technology,” said Mike Bloxham, the center’s director of testing and assessment. “We want to understand the impact on business models, communications and society.”

About Ball State University and the Center for Media Design

Ball State University, located one hour north of Indianapolis in Muncie, Ind., is the third-largest public university in Indiana, with more than 18,300 students. Originally a private teacher training school when it opened in 1899, Ball State became a university in 1965.

The Center for Media Design is an R&D facility focused on the creation, testing and practical application of digital technologies for business, classroom, home and community. The center is part of Ball State’s iCommunication initiative, funded by a $20 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Advertisements