Multichannel News

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld

Do you recognize these people?

  • The JP Morgan banker who no longer reads The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times on his train commute into New York City. He spends most of his time working e-mail on a Blackberry. The papers he reads are printouts of PowerPoint presentations.

  • The teenage son of the chief marketing officer of the nation’s 25th-largest accounting firm, who has created his own personal TV-programming service, the Poker Channel. While he does his homework on his mother’s kitchen laptop computer, he keeps windows open on screen to instantly send messages to five friends, for “collaboration” purposes. Within eye- and earshot is the World Poker Tour, played back from the digital recorder built into the set-top box attached to his family room TV.

  • The Connecticut father and son who spend their spare time playing baseball. They scour newspapers and online services for detailed statistics of the players they’re interested in. But they’re not throwing a ball in the backyard. They are spending their “quality time” together competing in a fantasy league, on a home computer, hoping to win cash at season’s end.

  • The head of one of the nation’s largest cable networks aimed at women — one not embroiled in a dispute with Dish Network — trains her eyes on programming on her channel and those of her competitors. But she no longer waits until Monday to read up on the industry in trade publications. She reads the news on Saturdays, when it comes online.

They are real. But their identities have been withheld to make a point: They could be just about anyone today.

Ten years ago, a satellite radio would have only military customers. A pod was something associated in popular culture with movies about body snatchers. And a large group of Americans known to be addicted to blackberries would probably have been called fruitaholics.

But the number of electronic devices and screens competing to serve eyes and ears in different ways, at home, office or on the go has proliferated with a speed unprecedented in media annals. And that naturally has meant the methods that consumers choose to use them are evolving faster as well, and in unpredictable ways.

TV Gets the Most Attention
Amount of time attention is shared with another medium, such as an online service, newspaper or telephone.
SOURCE: Veronis Suhler Stevenson
TV accounts for 40% of all time spent with media.
TV trails only work and sleep as the activity most often performed by consumers.


Attention is splintered — and each new medium must now pry away a piece of a limited amount of time that can be devoted to it. Meaning: Each consumer finds a different way to cope — and consume what’s thrown in front of him or her. And marketers are trying to find some way to figure out what is really being watched, as opposed to simply left turned on or stored on a hard drive some place.

“Radio came in in the ’20s. TV came in in the ’50s. Cable came in in the ’70s. When you look at some of the newer phenomena, like satellite radio or [Apple Computer Inc.’s] iPod, the slope of the adoption curve is incredibly steep, compared to some of these other media as they came on and took a while to reach mass penetration,’’ said James Rutherfurd, managing director, Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications Partners in New York. “That’s a tribute to a higher rate of technology creation, growth and distribution and comfort with technology.’’

Based on a variety of data collected by industry and government sources, his firm figures that any given individual in 2006 will spend 9.5 hours a day consuming media, ranging from cable television to old-style radio to newspapers to books. But if you were to believe that number, you’d probably be wrong.


Two years ago, Ball State University went beyond collecting statistics gathered by surveys and other indirect methods. Figuring Muncie, Ind., was about as close as it gets to a cross-section of the American population and character, it sent out field researchers to watch exactly how media was consumed during a full day of usage. Men, women and offspring were observed during all seven days of the week and the verdict was: People consume some form of print or electronic source of information or entertainment 11 hours a day.

The shadowing effort, known as one of the Middletown Media Studies, found that “media use appears to be far more complex than people think.’’ During about 24% of that time, individuals are actually consuming more than one medium at a time.

The common assumption? That the TV set acts as an electronic hearth — or “wallpaper,” as Points North Group contributing analyst Craig Leddy put it — while the viewer is actually reading, listening to or working on some other medium.

But that is a canard, according to both the Ball State and Veronis Suhler accountings. In Veronis Suhler’s collection and mathematical comparisons of data, the TV set consumes 40% of all time spent with media. In the Ball State observational studies, TV is unequivocally the one medium that people focus on — and don’t split their attention on, most of the time.

“The whole notion of the demise of television is not true. It’s not happening,” says Robert A. Papper, professor of telecommunications at Ball State.

In its study, Ball State found that TV watchers split their attention 28.1% of the time they are in front of the tube. But if you really want them to concentrate on your program, sell them a tape or disc. Viewers of videotapes only split their attention 13.2% of the time they’re looking at a TV screen. Viewers of DVDs only distract themselves 9.4%.

Video Is Watched Closely …
TV 28.1%
VCR 13.2%
DVD 9.4%
All Video 11.8%
SOURCE: Middletown Media Study, Ball State University
… Other Media Share Time
Telephone 78.7%
Computer 64.0%
CD 49.7%
Cell phone 62.0%
Newspaper 50.4%
Magazine 57.2%
Book 61.9%
SOURCE: Middletown Media Study, Ball State University

Roll it all up, and video becomes the primary focus of any individual mind almost 90% of the time. Nothing else even comes close.

Books? Readers dabble with TV, radio or some other input 61.9% of the time. Cell phones? A similar amount of split time. Regular phones? Almost 80%. Computers? 64% of the time.

“If you just add up all the hours, broadcast, cable and satellite, it’s the vast bulk of time,’’ said Rutherfurd (“5:4,” page 21).

To make it easier to compare what is coming to be called “engagement” with different media, programmers, agencies and distributors of visual and aural media may need a new benchmark. How does one compare, for instance, the viewing of a movie in a family room with the download of a video clip to a cell phone? How does one even know if someone watched a clip they downloaded to an iPod?


“That is the Holy Grail of media measurement,” says Larry Gerbrandt, senior vice president of Nielsen Entertainment.

One approach: A unit called “media consumption minutes,’’ suggested by Points North’s Leddy.

In raw form, those minutes are observed or collected every year or so by outfits such as Veronis Suhler or Ball State. Ball State pegs the minutes devoted daily to TV at 319; and to newspapers at 17. A “media consumption ratio” — comparing the relative use of those two media — then might be 18.8.

But it will take a while for such cross-media benchmarks to emerge. Nielsen Media Research for instance, is just beginning to embark on expanding its purview from measuring television viewing to gauging viewer “engagement” with other media.

The key — from a media standpoint — is not so much to measure the time spent with media, but the ability to recall ads, according to chief research officer Paul Donato. Exceptions: Paid media, like DVDs, some downloads to iPods or videos that cable companies supply for a charge to their subscribers.

The Nielsen approach this year will be to begin to develop panels, specific to each medium, that measure the effectiveness of advertising. That will let advertisers and their agencies compare the efficacy of using different media.

Those agencies, on their own, can and do establish “weighting factors” and algorithms that let them take available data — like the ratings points generated by TV or radio shows, or circulation data from magazines and newspapers — and create their own world view, or measurement of the media in their marketing universe.

Newer media, like the Internet, video on demand or video podcasts, though, begin to inherently provide one means of comparison: Viewers or readers actually ask for a specific program at a specific time.

Customers Want Downloads to Be Free …
People using media other than TV split most of their attention with some other medium, simultaneously.
SOURCE: Points North Group, Horowitz Associates
· 62% of consumers would prefer to watch commercials in order to get video downloads for free.
· 17% would prefer to pay $1.99 an episode.
… But Will Pay for Service
Worth to content owner of:
SOURCE: Parks Associates survey of 1,156 households
Unlimited phone service $36.83/month
Wireless broadband home Internet $20.63
VOD service $9.91
Music service $6.86
Gaming service $5.83

“The good news on video on demand is you can actually track the number of requests,” said Gerbrandt.

The bad news is that tallies of those requests are hard to come by and are rarely broken down. For instance, no one has started to collect any data of note on the largely three-month-old phenomenon of videos being downloaded to portable devices like the iPod.

A medium like the increasingly popular digital video recorder also poses significant tracking challenges. Nielsen’s ratings of “live” TV shows will now include a “live plus seven” tally — a measure of how much a show is watched within seven days of its airing.

But such playbacks, of course, don’t ensure that advertisements — or even the show itself — is closely watched. Viewers of a recording can skip past the ads with impunity. So it could be years before a useful benchmark for universally comparing the attention-pulling power of an ad, show, music video or even Web page emerges.

Search-engine company Google Inc. will play a role in sorting this out. Last week, Google said it will acquire an online service for placing radio advertising to its stable of media services, agreeing to acquire dMarc Broadcasting of Newport Beach, Calif.

It has already conducted its own ad-placement experiments, brokering the sale of small ads in magazines and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Whether a single broker or benchmark of media effectiveness will eventually emerge, is hard to predict. After all, the permutations of how video and other media get consumed are in themselves unpredictable.

Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said earlier this month in Phoenix that the No. 1 U.S. cable operator delivered 1.4 billion streams of on-demand video content to its customers last year.

Most popular? Music, shows from premium channels like Home Box Office, kids programming and — karaoke. In December alone, Comcast subscribers sang along to 3 million songs, along the lines of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Born to be Wild” in the privacy of their living rooms, instead of the bright lights of the local bar.

The Ball State researchers last year sent out another set of observers and discovered this multitasking of various media is on the rise. Now, when individuals are involved with any single medium, like a phone or TV, they are involved with a second medium 30% of the time. And maybe a third.

It’s possible, after all, to listen to a cell phone in one ear, an iPod in the other and watch football on TV all the while.

But, even in the Darwinian scheme of things, a species doesn’t change in a single generation. Humans are supposed to get eight hours of sleep and work eight hours a day. At current rates, they spend another eight hours consuming media. Do they have to give up shaving, bathing or what, to maintain what Veronis Suhler has found is a pretty consistent 1.2% a year increase in the amount of time spent with media?

“Maybe people are sleeping a little bit less. I’d hate to think they’re working less,’’ Rutherfurd said.

What Is a Viewer Worth?
One viewer to average TV show 41 cents
One purchase of a video download $1.39
Per-episode purchase of a boxed set of a season’s worth of TV shows $1.36
SOURCE: Nielsen Entertainment