Americans’ Media Usage Gets Short Shrift

NEW YORK A study from Ball State University shows telephone surveys and personal diaries fail to accurately portray how much media Americans consume.

The Indiana school’s Center for Media Design conducted the study that tracked the daily lives of 101 people and found that media usage was more than double the extent reported by standard survey research methods.

The study looked at a range of media—television, radio, telephone, Internet, books, newspapers— which it claims is unconventional because most industry surveys target only one medium.

The methodology used to conduct the study was to follow 101 people from breakfast to bedtime. Researchers also collected 359 diaries and conducted a phone survey of 401 individuals. The results showed that people often forget media usage when responding to phone surveys and tend to inaccurately report and record TV time in diaries. It also showed that many people were multi-tasking when consuming media, e.g., reading or using the Internet while watching TV.

“We found that phone surveys are largely useless in determining media behavior. You might as well throw darts,” said Bob Papper, a Ball State telecommunications professor and co-author of the study, in a statement.

The research also showed that TV viewing patterns are “among the most glaring examples of the limitations of current marketing techniques.” It says that phone survey participants, overall, watched TV an average of two hours per day, while diary participants logged four hours per day. However, those participants being observed actually watched an average of more than five hours per day.

A representative for Nielsen Media Research acknowledged that there are better means than diaries to track media. That rep, who noted the company does not use telephone surveys to measure TV audiences, said “people meters are the gold standard in existing audience measurement.”