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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Academics Field Largest Direct Observation Of Media Consumers

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Academics Field Largest Direct Observation Of Media Consumers

by Joe Mandese, Monday, Apr 4, 2005 8:00 AM EST

A YEAR AFTER IT RELEASED a breakthrough study indicating that consumers spend far more time with media than conventional media industry research has suggested, Ball State University is going back into the field with a much larger and far more ambitious second phase. The new phase, which is scheduled for the next six weeks, will be the largest and most detailed direct observation of how people actually use media. More than 400 people are being recruited as participants in this phase of the so-called "Middletown" studies, in which academic researchers were assigned to follow people throughout their media day, directly observing all of their media consumption. The first phase, which was released in February 2004 and was based on a sample of 101 people, surprised many media researchers--especially those on Madison Avenue--when it showed that mail- and telephone-based surveys significantly underestimate the amount of time people spend with media (see previous study's findings, below). But because of its relatively low sample base, some researchers sniffed at the projectability of the findings.

In addition to providing a far more representative sample base, the next phase of the study will also specifically look at how people multitask media, especially newer digital media.

"We need current research to study the impact of the new interactive, digital, and wireless media, as well as traditional newspapers, radio, and television that are dominating our lives," said Michael Bloxham, director of testing and assessment for Ball State's Center for Media Design. "In the end, our research should have an impact on not only how we understand media usage, but it should also have ramifications for media-related industries and education."

In the upcoming study, researchers will spend the day observing participants to review how they interact with media. Researchers will not rely on telephone surveys and personal diaries, because such information collection methods fail to completely capture how much media Americans use in their daily lives, Bloxham said.

"Our previous study found that we can better gauge media use by observing a person from the time they get up until the time they go to bed," he said. "Unfortunately, when telephone surveys or personal diaries are used, people tend to seriously underestimate how much they use the media."

Two renowned industry researchers, Jim Spaeth and Bill Moult, founders of Sequent Partners, have also joined the project.

Daily Time Attributed To Media Via Each Method

Phone Written Direct Phone Survey Vs.
Survey Diary Observation Direct Observation
Computer* 21 52 64 +205%
Online 29 57 78 +169%
Television 121 278 319 +164%
Books 18 17 36 +100%
Magazines 8 10 14 +75%
Radio 74 132 129 +74%
Newspapers 15 26 17 +13%

Source: Ball State University, Center for Media Design. *Home computer.


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