By Gregory M. Lamb | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The media "ecosystem" surrounding Americans -- not just TV,
radio, and newspapers but also the Web, PDAs, MP3 players, cellphones,
video games, and more -- keeps getting more widespread, personal, and
The world is seeing "a Cambrian explosion" of media usage, says
Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future, a think tank
in Palo Alto, Calif.
A new study bears that out, providing data to back up the
feeling many have that they're immersed in some form of media nearly
every waking moment. That's close to true, says a report from the
Center for Media Design at Ball State University in Muncie,
Ind. Researchers watched the behavior of 394 ordinary Midwesterners
for more than 5,000 hours, following them 12 hours a day and recording
their use of media every 15 seconds on a hand-held device.
About 30 percent of their waking hours were found to be spent
using media exclusively, while another 39 percent involved using media
while also doing another activity, such as watching TV while preparing
food or listening to the radio while at work. Altogether, more than
two-thirds of people's waking moments involved some kind of media
Using more than one medium at once
"The extent that we saw that was quite remarkable," says Michael
Bloxham, a Ball State researcher who helped prepare the report, which
was released Monday at a media convention in New York.
What's more, of the time spent using media, nearly one-third was
spent consuming two or more forms at once, such as watching TV and
surfing the Internet, or listening to music while playing a video
One theory the study lays to rest, Mr. Bloxham says, is that
this media multitasking, which the researchers call Concurrent Media
Exposure, "is the province of only the young or the tech savvy." All
age groups multitask, he says, though the pairings may differ. Those
over 50, for example, were more likely to combine TV viewing with
newspaper reading. Younger people might listen to music while sending
Watching television remains by far the most popular
media-related activity. More than 90 percent of those studied viewed
TV, for an average of about four hours per day. About three-quarters
used a computer, for a little more than two hours per day.
While much has been written about how computer use may be eating
into TV watching, the report suggests that the reverse may be true as
well. "As, over time, the computer becomes a vehicle for more rich
media content (often related to TV programming), the line between the
two media is likely to blur further, calling into question the
TV-centric mindset," it says.
Surprisingly, 18-to-24-year- olds were found to spend less time
online than older age groups, perhaps because many older people go
online as part of their workday, as well as during free time.
"The overall amount of time spent in a day with media is enormous,"
says Jane Clarke, a vice president for Time Warner Global Marketing, who
attended a presentation on the study. The study, she says, represents "the
best approach I've seen for measuring all combinations of concurrent media
Observing how people use media isn't new, Ms. Clarke says, "but
quantifying observed media behavior - in 15-second intervals - for a large
sample is a breakthrough."
The lesson for advertisers: You'll need a "holistic" view of
media. "If you're advertising in one medium, you can complement the
message by combining it with another medium," Clarke says. "The
findings suggest creative ways to combine and package media for
advertisers to get their messages to consumers."
Advertisers might want to look more closely at less-conventional
forms, such as computer software and mobile phones, as new advertising
media, Bloxham says. Overall, the study concludes, "From an
advertising perspective, there is good news and bad -- both an array of
new media outlets along with the challenge of more outlets competing
Defining media broadly, including mobile phones, was definitely
the right approach for the study, Mr. Saffo says. "A cellphone is no
longer just a communication device, it's a media device," he says, one
on which people enjoy music, share photographs, and even view video
clips, suggesting that the new industry might be called "Cellu-wood."
Still in the midst of a revolution
"I think what we're in now is still every bit a media revolution
... but it's a personal media revolution," Saffo adds. Media are
becoming more intimate and two-way, he says. "We can answer back if we
Despite all the competition, today's leading medium, television,
won't go away, Saffo predicts (though he admits to being a fan of
watching AP news video clips online, which he finds most easily at a
Japanese website). Movies didn't disappear when television
arrived. And radio adapted when TV came along. "Radio, which had been
the centerpiece of American living rooms, reinvented itself as audio
wallpaper," he says.
The report, "Observing Consumers and Their Interactions With
Media," is the second on media usage produced by the four-year-old
Center for Media Design at Ball State. It follows in the tradition of
the "Middletown Studies" of the early 20th century, in which
sociologists observed the inhabitants of Muncie, Ind., which they
considered to be a typical American community.
www.csmonitor.com | Copyright 2005 The Christian Science Monitor.
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