Telephone surveys? Wrong number. Diaries? Park those pens. According to a new study by Ball State, media use is more than double that recorded by traditional media measurements. Actually, the researchers didn’t say traditional methods are irrelevant, just inherently incomplete. If true, the surveymeisters suggest, it could have "major implications for the media and advertising industries."
Working with a sliver of the university’s $20 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, two professors conducted their own study of various study methods and concluded that phone surveys are largely useless in determining media behavior. You might as well throw darts. Professors Michael Holmes and Bob Papper also found that diary keepers tended not to make entries about short-term repeated media uses.
"Phone surveys reflect a person’s perception of their media use but not their actual behavior," said Holmes. The pair called TV viewing patterns "one of the "most glaring examples of the limitations of current measuring techniques. Their survey, called the "Middletown Media Studies," found that while phone survey respondents said they watched two hours per day, diarists actually logged 4 hours and 38 minutes. The study also "shadowed" some respondents to see what their "actual" use was, finding that those people watched 5 hours and 19 minutes a day.
One of the X-factors they uncovered is multitasking. Their survey found that people spend almost one-fourth of their media-use time using more than one medium simultaneously," a figure they called "astonishingly high."
For the study, the pair conducted 401 phone surveys, collected 359 diaries, and "shadowed" 101 people. All were in the Muncie, Ind., area and the study’s name was taken from a landmark sociological study of the 1920s and 30s that framed Muncie as the typical American town, or middletown.
Responding to the report, Nielsen Media Reserach's Jack Loftus said: "The survey is pretty much what you would expect by trailing along after 101 people living in Muncie for 24 hours.
We don't use telephone interviews for television audience measurement. We do ask people to fill out a diary for a week. We also use Meters in 55 markets, and the people don't have to do anything but turn on the TV set. The People Meter sample is also electronic.
It is likely that people consume more media than they are aware. But to get more details, you probably need more information–the kind you would get from an ongoing sample, for example, from the rest of the population living outside Muncie."