TV Weekhttp://www.tvweek.com/news/2008/02/new_study_will_be_watching_wha.php

By Jon Lafayette

Imagine what you would learn if you spent all day looking over people’s shoulders to see how they consume media.

What do they do when they wake up, when they’re at work, while they’re at their computer or sitting in their living rooms?

The Council for Research Excellence has commissioned a $3.5 million study that will do just that, beginning next month. The council is an independent forum of research experts created and funded by the Nielsen Co.

The results of the observational study, conducted by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design & Sequent Partners, will help Nielsen figure out the gaps in current audience measurement, particularly when it comes to video.

Shari Anne Brill, VP and director of programming at Carat and a co-chair of the Council’s media consumption and engagement committee, called the study a landmark piece of research.

“We really do not have any understanding whatsoever of how consumers go about accessing content throughout their waking day,” Ms. Brill said. “We all make assumptions, but due to the technique that Ball State University has pioneered, we get a better understanding of that and what the implications are for the future.”

Ms. Brill said one of the committee’s objectives was to test some of the myths about media consumption that arise when a bunch of industry people in New York and Los Angeles rely on their own consumption experience as a model.

For example, there’s a feeling that videocassette recorders have disappeared and everyone is using digital video recorders to tape shows. There also was a sense that people would be moving from the TV to the Web, watching shows and movies on their iPods and other such devices.

“We really wanted to understand how consumers were engaging with media, specifically video,” Ms. Brill said, “to get an understanding of how it’s changing over time, in order to propose the optimal form of video media measurement.”

Howard Shimmel, senior VP for client insights at Nielsen, said the study will give the research company a good sense of how much video is being watched using different devices.

“It’s important that we understand the size of consumption before we make a decision about whether we have a dialogue with our clients about whether we include it in our measurement framework or not,” Mr. Shimmel said. “So as you think about something like video consumption on iPods, knowing whether that’s 1% or 5% or 10% is an important part of the dialogue we need to have with our clients.”

Knowing more about how people are watching TV now also could provide insights into how viewing should be measured going forward, he said.

The Video Mapping Survey will conduct its research by following 350 people in five markets: Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle. The panelists will be measured twice over a six-month period, with the researchers using a computerized device that records data at 10-second intervals.

“We’re logging their exposure to and their use of 17 different media and the different ways in which they’re used,” said Mike Bloxham, director of insight and research at Ball State’s Center for Media Design.

While the study is primarily focused on video consumption, “We are still nonetheless going to be taking into account use of other media, such as newspapers, magazines and the telephone, and all the rest, so that we have a full contextual understanding and we can look at simultaneous media usage,” Mr. Bloxham said.

With the computerized data device, if a researcher is watching someone who is watching TV and has a newspaper open on his lap, “It’s possible to tell when you’re paying more attention to one or the other because you’ve got to look at both of those, and then our observer will be toggling between the two.”

In addition, a 100-person panel in the Indianapolis market will be observed before and after what Ball State calls a “media acceleration process.”

The people in that group are offered a 50% discount on digital video recorders, wireless laptops and other devices the researchers think might change media consumption habits.

The people in the test are interested in the devices, but they’re waiting for the price to go down. They’ll be observed before they’ve acquired the device and after they’ve had time to establish a new pattern of use.

“What we’re trying to do is avoid the early adopters, and we’re also trying to avoid the people who will just say ‘yes’ when you offer them a free shiny object with lots of buttons and flashing lights,” Mr. Bloxham said.

The acceleration process has already been tested via a smaller project backed by Time Warner, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo.

All of the participants in the study will be people who have rotated out of other Nielsen audience panels. That will give the researchers further ability to compare their media usage over time.

Mr. Bloxham said he expected results to be available early next year.

Ms. Brill is already looking ahead.

“We’ll probably have a really great opportunity to learn more about multiplatform viewing, get our first understanding of how mobile devices are being used for accessing video content,” she said.

The project also takes a look at how DVR playback affects live viewing and will measure channel-changing and fast-forwarding, she said.

“The output of this is we’ve got an incredible granular data set, which is, importantly, a continuous timeline throughout the day,” Mr. Bloxham said. “It’s not one point in the day, it’s not self-report, it’s not one medium, it’s not one environment like home or workplace, it’s all of these things together,” he said.

“From an industry point of view, this is a study that will be utilized and talked about for years to come,” he added. “In academia it will be there for at least 20 years.”

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