Major Research Report Expected To Explode TV Viewing Myths

A group of the biggest names in TV research are set to explode some commonly held myths about how consumers watch TV. Their findings about what’s really going on in the world of video consumption will be unveiled next week. The survey is expected to reveal such things as which age groups do the most media multi-tasking; whether younger viewers are really shifting away from traditional TV and how much commercial time viewers are exposed to.

The Council for Research Excellence, a cross-industry think tank of top executives from agencies and TV networks, has spent the past year executing a $3.5 million project called the “Video Consumer Mapping Study.” The initiative is described as, “the largest and most significant observational study of media activity ever undertaken.”

Shari Anne Brill, Senior-VP director of at Carat, who has been intimately involved with the project said, “People are in fact watching commercials and not running screaming from the room and younger viewers haven’t abandoned television.” The major findings are being kept for a presentation on Thursday, March 26.

The study was funded, in part, by Nielsen Media Research, and was created to investigate commonly held, but perhaps mistaken beliefs about TV viewings. The Council for Research Excellence put together their wish-list of questions to help better inform marketers about their fears on such issues as DVR penetration.

Data was gathered via Webcams that tracked consumer behavior in and out of the home. Participants were also tracked by researchers through their daily lives. If consumers were using media during private times such as bathroom visits or when they were getting ready for bed, they were asked to track that in a diary.  The research council recruited 350 people from six TV markets and conducted two phases of the survey in Spring and Fall 2008. It also offered new media devices at a discount to people to try to measure how interested people would be in certain products if their prices came down.

Steve Sternberg, executive VP, director of audience analysis at Magna, has also been heavily involved in the study. He says the project didn’t examine specific content but broke out online video versus mobile and DVR usage patterns and what media people choose to focus on without trying to multi-task.

“Multi-tasking is not a young person’s phenomenon,” said Sternberg, “Traditional TV still accounts for the bulk of viewing to all three screens.” The findings will turn some traditional notions on their head. “The idea has been that TV is a lean back medium and online is lean forward, in reality which has fewer activities going on? We look at attentiveness.”

The results could have some impact on this year’s upfront and will no doubt create a topical environment ahead of the Advertising Research Foundation’s annual convention on March 30. That event has often been a forum for changing the parameters of the upfront debate and back in 2006 saw the first movement towards an embrace of the commercial ratings currency.

While ad agencies and industry associations have looked at consumer’s TV habits previously, this data is creating a buzz on Madison Avenue because it comes from a single source and is so comprehensive. The study was conducted by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design and Sequent Partners.

While the video consumer mapping study primarily looks at video media, it also holds some interesting news for other media such as print and outdoor.