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by Joe Mandese

In what is likely the most ambitious ethnographic study ever observing how people actually consume media, Nielsen Media Research is funding a highly regarded academic research group with $3.5 million to follow hundreds of people around to see how they use both traditional and emerging video platforms inside and outside their homes. The project, one of the pieces of primary research to be funded by the Nielsen-backed Council For Research Excellence, will be conducted jointly by Muncie, Indiana-based Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, and New York-based brand and media metrics consultancy Sequent Partners.

The CMD, will utilize the same rigorous academic approach it applied to its highly regarded Middletown Studies, but will implement them on a much broader scale – tailing 350 people in five major media markets (Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle) – and will conduct them twice over a six month period.

A second, ancillary component of the research will observe how the media behavior of 100 people in Indianapolis is influenced by “accelerating” their adoption of new digital media technologies. The so-called “Media Acceleration Process,” will survey them once before they adopt the new technology, and once afterward. This component has been dubbed an acceleration, because the respondents will purchase at least one new digital technology – partially subsidized by the researchers – between the two intervals.

“The goal is to really research how people are accessing content today and get a handle on what the implications would be for those emerging technologies,” says Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president-director of programming at Carat, and one of the members of the Nielsen funded council. She said the goal of this project was to dispel some of the “mythology” circulating around the advertising and television industries, such as how DVRS are killing the effectiveness of 30-second TV commercials, and to look at and try to understand how people are actually using media.