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Study to Track 24-Hour Media Usage

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NEW YORK What better way to track people's video consumption than to have someone follow them around all day -- literally from the time they wake up until they retire at night -- making detailed notes about when and how they watch, listen, surf, read, play video games, download, text and talk on the phone?

That's exactly how a new $3.5 million study -- funded by the Nielsen Co. -- will track the media usage habits of a panel of some 450 consumers in separate phases throughout this year beginning next month.

Ball State University -- a pioneer in this type of shadow-the-consumer research -- and Sequent Partners on behalf of the Committee for Research Excellence (CRE) are conducting the study. CRE, comprised of agency, media company and client executives, was formed in 2005 to develop studies that provide insights into consumer viewing habits and to help Nielsen sharpen the methodologies it uses to measure audiences across a growing array of media.

Results of the study will be released in stages beginning later this year. "We think this will be a landmark study with groundbreaking results," said Shari Anne Brill, svp, director of programming at Carat and chairwoman of CRE's media consumption and engagement committee. "It will give us a blueprint of consumers' access to media content across all screens, platforms and locations throughout their waking day."

In addition to funding the study, Nielsen Media Research (like Adweek, a unit of the Nielsen Co.) will help recruit the consumer panels, which will be comprised of former participants in Nielsen's national TV ratings panel.

A panel of 350 consumers across five markets - Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago -- will be monitored for a full day in the spring and fall of this year by trackers who will record (via electronic handheld note-taking devices) the use of 17 different media as the people use them alone and in multiple combinations. A separate panel of 100 users will also be tracked in the spring and fall. Before the second phase, that panel will have the option to purchase Slingboxes, DVRs and other state-of-the-art media units at discounted rates. The idea is to use the second panel as a predictor of how new media devices will affect future viewing patterns.

Ball State and Sequent won the contract to conduct the survey after a review that included two other undisclosed finalists. The researchers conducted a pre-test last year to prove to the CRE that a panel would cooperate and provide usable data that could be projected nationally, said Mike Bloxham, director of insight and research at Ball State's Center for Media Design. "The findings will provide an important platform for analysis and debate as the committee pursues its mission to inform future best practices in cross-platform video measurement," he said.