Study: TV Is Still King

For all the fuss over new media, the old-fashioned TV is still by far the most popular medium for all consumers, both young and old. In fact, on average, consumers spend only about two minutes a day watching free TV via the Internet and not even a full minute watching mobile video.

The findings, released Thursday (March 26) in New York during a two-hour presentation, are from a landmark consumer study conducted by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design and Sequent Partners for the Council for Research Excellence. Backed by Nielsen, which spent $3.5 million on the study, the CRE was founded four years ago to help guide measurement priorities for Nielsen.

Contrary to popular belief, younger consumers are not the biggest consumers of media. The biggest consumers of media are those in the 45-54 age group, dubbed the “digital boomer.” The digital boomer, which on average has a daily screen time of 9 1/2 hours, watches a lot of TV, but also spends a lot of time on the computer. Screen time for all other age groups, including the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups, is 8 1/2 hours.

“Technology has been changing so rapidly. Increasingly, our clients are frightened by the onset of the DVR. There’s been talk that the 30-second spot is dead and that young people don’t watch TV any more,” said Shari Anne Brill, chairperson of CRE’s media consumption and engagement committee and senior vp, director of programming for Carat. “We wanted to verify or dispel those myths.”

The CRE decided that the only way to objectively find out how people consume media throughout the day was to use a consumer-centric approach that was truly media neutral.

Conducted over a year, the Consumer Mapping Study is the largest of its kind. Using an observational research method perfected by Ball State, 350 former Nielsen panelists’ were shadowed by researchers who observed consumers using media as they went about their day, from the time they got up in the morning to brush their teeth, to the time they closed their eyes at the end of the day. Data was collected twice, in the spring and fall of last year, in five markets, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia. A sixth market, Indianapolis, was used for a media acceleration process, which observes consumers before and after they have added new media devices to their lifestyles.

Other findings pointed to the shifting role of media. The computer has replaced radio as the No. 2 media activity. While reach is similar for both, 77 percent for radio and 75 percent for the computer, consumers spend on average 2 hours and 33 minutes on the computer but spend only 1 hour and 49 minutes with radio.

Advertising on TV is alive and well. On average, TV users were exposed to roughly an hour a day of advertising and promotions. “The data clearly disputes the belief that consumers are avoiding most of the live TV commercials,” said Bill Moult, founding partner for Sequent.

The study holds several implications for the direction of Nielsen’s measurement services.

Overall, the findings came “stunningly close” to Nielsen’s three-screen research, which uses an entirely different approach than the Ball State study. The challenge for Nielsen is to find an affordable way to measure out-of-home. In November, Nielsen suspended the out-of-home report, a service of Nielsen and IMMI.

“The best opportunity to improve measurement is to figure out how to measure out-of-home. That is the biggest single improvement we can make in our service,” said Paul Donato, executive vp and chief research officer for Nielsen.

The CRE has several other studies in the works. Results of a study on response bias are scheduled for April. Studies on universe estimates and set-top box measurement data are also in various stages of development.