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by Joe Mandese

A group of the TV industry’s leading researchers Thursday released the first wave of what is believed to be the biggest, most ambitious and most detailed ethnographic study ever done to measure how Americans are consuming media across the major “screens” (TV, computers, mobile and gaming devices, and digital out-of-home locations), and the top finding is that while we are increasingly becoming a population of media multi-taskers, the television screen continues to dominate our lives. The findings, which come from the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence, are the culmination of a one-year, $2.5 million study that employed a highly-regarded “observational” method of media research developed and conducted by Ball State University.


Unlike traditional survey-based methods that simply ask people how they use media, the Ball State method employed researchers to physically shadow and observe how people actually consumed media during a 24-hour period. The study is regarded as the most rigorous and largest scale research of its kind, and the researchers said they will be mining its database for months to come to shed new insights about how the media usage of Americans is evolving in age of multiple digital screens.

The top line takeaway from Thursday’s briefing is that we are consuming more media than ever before – an average of about 8.5 hours daily across all adult demographic groups – but that TV, especially live TV viewing, remains the “800-pound gorilla,” accounting for the vast majority of time the average person spends watching screen-based media.

The study also found a seemingly contrarian insight that it is not the youngest adults who consume the most screen-based media, but boomers ages 45-54 who consume about an hour more total daily screen-based media than all other demographic groups. The researchers said this is because boomers are adopting new media, especially computer-based media in the workplace, but have not abandoned traditional TV viewing, and the net effect has been incremental usage of media.

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