Media Life

by Kevin Downey

Great steps have been made in recent years toward improving how media usage is measured, but a massive new study suggests that much of the data media buyers and sellers rely on is still highly flawed or just plain wrong in the case of data based on people’s recall of their media usage, as with the diary system still in use in many local markets to track TV watching.

The $3.5 million research project, funded by Nielsen but conducted by Ball State University and Sequent Partners, an independent research firm, found a wide disparity between how people think they used media versus actual usage.

Media researchers have long believed self-reported data, such as diaries, were flawed.

This new research documented just how flawed by following people around throughout their day and documenting their every engagement with media in whatever form, whether TV, radio, cell phone, computer or print.

In all, researchers recorded nearly three years’ worth of media behavior on the part of 400 study participants.

The study is significant because it’s the first time researchers have tracked media usage in this manner, and it produced other findings that fly in the face of commonly held beliefs about media usage

The most startling finding is that television remains the dominant visual media by far, accounting for 99 percent of all video consumption, dwarfing time spent viewing via DVRs, computers and cell phones.

The study puts to rest all the talk of traditional TV losing ground to other forms of media, even as those media have seen significant growth.

Researchers found that people were inclined to under-report the amount of time they spent in front of TV sets and over-report time spend with other media.

Study participants spent more than 300 minutes a day watching TV on TV sets, or just over five hours, but reported watching just over 240 minutes. When asked how much video they watched online, they reported nearly an hour a day when it fact they watched just a few minutes.

Further, against nearly five hours a day of TV watching, other types of video viewing barely register a blip. Watching DVDs accounts for just 23 minutes, and watching DVR-recorded programs accounts for under 15 minutes.
Another 7 minutes is spent playing videogames, while online video chalks up only 2.4 minutes and mobile video is watched a mere 0.1 minutes.

“This may be the first research to show over reporting of online video,” said Bill Moult, founding partner at Sequent, yesterday at a conference in New York.

Another finding, one no less significant, is that the amount of time spent in front of TV sets varied little by age group: Even among young adults, it accounts for 98 percent of all video consumption.

“The total screen time among all age groups is amazingly similar,” said Moult. “If you read some of the hype in newspapers, people think young people are not watching TV.”

The primary objective of this research is to shed light on how people use media in order to better measure it, notably in the future as traditional TV viewing gives way to online and mobile video viewing.

The study also found that viewers spend a significant amount of time using more than one medium at a time. In fact, a full hour a day is spent simultaneously using more than one media outlet.

In all, people spend about 8.5 hours each day in front of one sort of screen or another.