TV Still Tops

Americans consume far more media than was previously believed, according to an eye-opening new study. Not only that, but the syndicated research the industry relies on may not be as sound as advertisers think.

An update of Ball State University's periodic “Middletown Studies,” the new study did something researchers who rely on samples cannot do: It followed 400 people around for an entire day, observing how they use media.

Past versions of the Middletown Studies have shown that sample research generally underestimates the amount of time people spend with media. But the new research—using a much bigger sample and more rigorous data-gathering techniques—found it may be far greater than most imagined.

Among other things, it found that the average person uses media 39% of their waking day, far more than any other life activity, including work (21%). In fact, if concurrent use of media is factored in (such as reading the paper while watching television), the study estimates that people spend the equivalent of 96% of their waking day using media. And at 8.7 hours per day, people spend more time using media than they do sleeping.

BSU found that, not surprisingly, TV remains the dominant medium, representing about four hours of daily media usage—nearly twice the amount of time people spend with the next most popular medium, the computer. Radio ranked a distant third.

The study also appeared to affirm some of the findings from Arbitron's portable people meter tests, which show that a large amount of TV usage comes from outside the home, including work, “other locations” (bars, friends' houses, etc.), and even the car.

“Almost 30% of the people watch TV outside the home, and it accounts for 9.4% of all TV viewing,” reports the study, which concludes that the shifts taking place in terms of TV's role in the consumer media mix are more an “evolution” than a “revolution.”

While television's place atop the media totem pole does not appear to be in jeopardy, the study did acknowledge the shifting role of advertising. “The fact that TV still dominates across all groups in terms of time is indicative that the position of the medium within the hierarchy of media choice for ordinary Americans is not under imminent threat,” it states. “That is not to say that issues relating to ad avoidance are not real, nor that concurrent media exposure doesn't compromise attention–both of which will continue to be of concern to many.”

All in a Day
How people are using media
% of People Using Media Average Use Medium (Minutes)
Source: Ball State University
*Any computer includes all Internet (uses) and software. All Internet includes Web browsing, e-mail and instant messaging.
**All phone includes standard land line and mobile phone.
***Music includes cassette, CD, MP3 and other sources, but not music on the radio.
Any computer*72.9135.8
All Internet68.093.4
Computer software51.473.6
All phone**94.642.2
Land line82.629.9
Mobile phone58.611.8