How much time did you spend online in the last week? Major research houses purport to have the answer to this question, based on the recall of panel members who fill in media consumption diaries. But with our media consumption habits changing radically, the growing trend of multitasking and an increasing prevalence of mobile connectivity, how accurate can they be?

If you were asked to recall how much time you spent ‘online’ in the past week could you answer? Could you remember all the occasions you accessed the internet over the week, at work, from home, on mobile? If you’re like me, you’d be hard pressed the estimate the amount of time you spent ‘on’ the internet in the past day, let alone the past week. And, accuracy aside, is a measure of time spent online even relevant anymore, in today’s age of multitasking and mobile media?

Yet we still report media consumption on a system that assumes we access one form of media at a time, and that we’re actually paying attention to it at that time. Some multi-task better than others, but the human brain can only allocation full attention to one activity at a time. We can therefore assume that when multi-tasking we’re only allocating partial attention to each activity, and that there is a hierarchy of focus to the split. When it comes to the TV versus the PC, we found that the hierarchy of focus is in favour of the PC, with 61% concentrating on the internet compared to 39% concentrating on the TV.

I believe we need change in the way we measure media consumption – we need a more accurate model and one that measures engagement, not just time media was left running. Intuitively, the current system has flaws, and it doesn’t match other figures that we know are reliable.

There are other options and we have the technology to develop software that monitors our media consumption behaviour. For example, OzTam have already moved to a more advance method of collecting viewership data, and are now able to capture time shifted viewing. But this is still only for one medium and it still doesn’t tell us if they’re actually engaged with the media or not.


Research is all about providing actionable results, and sometimes we need a jolt to re-evaluate techniques that are no longer delivering this. We don’t profess to have all the answers, but think it is time to explore new models for media measurement, models that reflect how consumer behaviour has changed. We’re in the midst of doing some experiments around media consumption and media engagement, which I will share in a future blog. But if you have any thoughts on this or ideas on how to accurately measure the ‘consumption versus engagement’ of media, please drop me an email…