Topics: Emerging Media, College of Communication Information and Media

March 26, 2009

Mike Bloxham, director of Insight and Research with Ball State~~~s Center for Media Design (CMD), explaining some of the detail of the Video Consumer Mapping (VCM) study for an audience of approximately 300 attending a March 26 news conference at the Time-Life Building in New York, where results of the research were released. CMD~~~s proprietary observational measurement technique generated enormous amounts of information at unprecedented levels of accuracy during the yearlong, $3.5 million study.
If there's a window handy, open it and prepare to toss out some commonly held beliefs about Americans' exposure to and use of video media.

pioneering study conducted on behalf of the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence (CRE) by Ball State University's Center for Media Design (CMD) and Sequent Partners dispels several popular notions about video media use; for example, that it's people at the generational extremes, retirees and young people, who on average consume the most video media (actually, it's late baby boomers ages 45-54). At the same time, it confirms that traditional "live" television remains the proverbial "800-pound gorilla" in the video media arena.

Results of the $3.5 million yearlong Video Consumer Mapping (VCM) study, in which participants were observed directly throughout the day by CMD researchers, were released by representatives of the CRE, Nielsen, Ball State and the analytical firm Sequent Partners, during a major press event March 26 in New York's famed Time-Life Building.

Using handheld smart keyboards equipped with a custom media collector program developed by Ball State, the observers recorded — in 10-second increments — consumer exposure to visual content presented on any of four categories of screens: traditional television (including live TV as well as DVD/VCR and DVR playback); computer (including Web use, e-mail, instant messaging and stored or streaming video); mobile devices such as a Blackberry or iPhone (including Web use, text messaging and mobile video); and "all other screens" (including display screens in out-of-home environments, in-cinema movies and other messaging and even GPS navigation units).

All told, the VCM study generated data covering more than three-quarters of a million minutes or a total of 952 observed days, making it the largest and most extensive observational study of media usage ever conducted.

Key findings

In addition to the revelation that consumers in the 45-54 age group average the most daily screen time (just over 9 1/2 hours), the VCM study found the average for all other age groups to be "strikingly similar" at roughly 8 1/2 hours — although the composition and duration of devices used by the respective groups during the day varied.

The research also found that:

  • Contrary to some recent popular media coverage suggesting that more Americans are rediscovering "free TV" via the Internet, computer video tends to be quite small with an average time of just 2 minutes (a little more than 0.5 percent) a day.
  • Despite the proliferation of computers, video-capable mobile phones and similar devices, TV in the home still commands the greatest amount of viewing, even among those ages 18-24; thus, in the eyes of the researchers, appearing to dispute a common belief that Internet video and mobile phone video exposure among that group (and the next one up, ages 25-34) were sizeable in 2008.
  • Even in major metropolitan areas where commute times can be long and drive-time radio remains popular, computing has replaced radio as the No. 2 media activity. Radio is now No. 3 and print media fourth.
  • TV users were exposed to, on average, 72 minutes per day of TV ads and promos — again dispelling a commonly held belief that modern consumers are channel-hopping or otherwise avoiding most of the advertising in the programming they view.
  • "Environmental" exposure outside the home, while still relatively small at just 2.8 percent of total video consumption today, could nearly double during the next few years. Currently, measurement of these screens is only just beginning with programs such as Nielsen On-location Media and Nielsen Online, though they may be given more importance soon, given their growing and strategic advertising role.

For a more complete summary of these and other findings, please visit


Detail makes the difference

"What differentiates this study from all other attempts to measure video exposure at the consumer level is its scale, the range of media covered and the fact that it is focused on consumers first and the media second. It's not a study about TV or the Web or any other medium – it's about how, where, how often and for how long consumers are exposed to all media," said Mike Bloxham, director of insight and research for Ball State's CMD, which was selected to lead the project, in large part, because of its previous success with the influential Middletown Media Studies I and II.

An important finding of those earlier efforts, Bloxham explained, concerned the uncertainty of more historical methods of measurement and, in particular, various forms of self-report.

"Among the things we learned from those experiences is that people generally cannot report accurately how much time they spend with media," said Bloxham. "Some media tend to be over-reported whereas others tend to be under-reported — sometimes to an alarming extent. Clearly, that kind of variance puts in question one's ability to draw meaningful conclusions, and it convinced us that the observational method is the only real way to achieve accurate and reliable results."

Not only did the direct observation method employed during the VCM study produce unusually precise data, the quality of that information also enabled a type of analysis of media behavior in the U.S. that has never been achieved before, said Jim Spaeth, co-founder of Sequent Partners.

"Direct observation of consumers' use of media enables us to better understand their concurrent exposure to multiple media, often in the context of other life activities," Spaeth said. "Winning this 'competition for attention' is the most significant challenge media and advertising face today and having accurate information is a prerequisite for success."

Game changer?

Although the VCM study itself makes no specific recommendations regarding what the CRE or Nielsen should do with the results, CRE members have indicated the research was intended from the outset "to provide actionable and potentially game-changing insights."

"This landmark research study makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how consumers go about accessing content across all platforms within the context of their daily lives," said CRE Media Consumption and Engagement Committee Chair Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president and director of programming at Carat USA. "It also considerably advances the council's thinking regarding audience measurement priorities. Nothing of this magnitude has ever been attempted before and we expect that our entire industry will benefit from this research for years to come."

About the Council for Research Excellence

The Council for Research Excellence (CRE) is an independent research group created by The Nielsen Company and comprised of senior-level industry researchers representing advertisers, agencies, broadcast networks, cable, syndicators, local stations, and industry associations. The CRE is dedicated to advancing the knowledge and practice of audience measurement methodology. For more information, please visit

About The Nielsen Company

The Nielsen Company is a global information and media company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence, mobile measurement, trade shows and business publications (Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Adweek). The privately held company is active in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York. For more information, please visit

About Sequent Partners LLC

Sequent Partners is a brand and media metrics consultancy helping leading advertiser, media, and research companies through this accelerating transition in media to ultimately build brand value. The firm has worked with Ball State University since the Middletown Media Studies. Some of the company's other publicly visible engagements have included managing the client Steering Committee for the Project Apollo pilot and developing the measurement guidelines for the new and explosively growing Out-of-Home Video Advertising Bureau (OVAB). For more information, please visit

To read news coverage about the study, please visit the "Emerging Media" page of Ball State's Web site.