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Media consumption patterns and a short history of screens


Media consumption patterns and a short history of screens

  1. Around 1600 the camera obscura is perfected. Light is inverted through a small hole or lens from outside, and projected onto a surface or screen, creating a moving image
  2. Mechanisms for producing two-dimensional drawings in motion were displayed in public halls by devices such as the zoetrope, mutoscope and praxinoscope in the 1860s
  3. The development of the motion picture camera allows individual component images to be captured and stored on a single reel, motion pictures are shown onto a screen for an entire audience in the 1880s
  4. The first commercially-made electronic television with a cathode ray tube is manufactured by Telefunken in Germany in 1934
  5. The first call on a hand-held mobile phone is made on 3 April 1973
  6. Apple Computers introduce the Apple II, the world’s first personal computer in 1977
  7. Mattel introduce the first hand-held electronic game Auto Race in 1977

According to the results of a landmark consumer media consumption research study released in March it comes as no surprise that our dedication to screens know no bounds.

The research, commissioned by the US media-measurement company Nielsen Media and its US Council for Research Excellence, followed 372 Americans in two full days of live media observation.

It was was designed to simultaneously observe and measure media exposure, life activities, locations for media use and where people spent their day. The mass observation study took place in six geographically disperse cities across the US. The final sample included 952 observed days and over three-quarters-of-a-million minutes of observation. Hardly an insubstantial study.

The study found we spend on average, 67% of our total daily media time with live TV screen-based media (including DVRs, DVDs and games), about two minutes per day watching video via the internet, and only a fraction of a minute watching mobile video. Even among 18-24 year olds, the average amount of time spent watching live TV (209.9 minutes) even surpassed computer screen time (169.5 minutes).

If, as the study identifies, our total concurrent media consumption across all forms of media runs to eight and half hours per day, it also confirms our lives are now more tuned to screen time than first thought.  

The research shows concurrent media use and exposure is almost the same for all age groups with media choice so rapidly changing that computer-based activities have replaced radio as our number two media. US consumers now spend on average two hours and 33 minutes on a computer, but only one hour and 49 minutes with a radio.

Contrary to current thinking, young demographics are not the biggest consumers of media. While the average adult spent 309.1 minutes watching live TV and 14.6 minutes playing back programming via DVR, the biggest consumers of media were in the 45-54 demographic or what the study called a digital boomer. Digital boomers spend nine and half hours per day using all four screens (TV, computer, mobile and OOH such as kiosks) compared to eight and half hours for all other age groups.

One of the most interesting findings was that on average live TV users were only exposed to roughly an hour a day of advertising and promotions. If proven by subsequent studies, this debunks much of what is claimed around the level of brand message exposure per day (at around 3,000). As most live television advertising runs at 15 minutes per hour or so, on the basis of figures quoted in the study, these should be two hours on television alone or around 240 messages on live TV at 30 seconds per message). What’s difficult in this measure was exposure remains undefined and so, do they mean a viewer actually watching advertising or just appearance? My assumption is they are defining it as active participation. For example, during the live TV commercial breaks people were observed shifting their primary attention to media such as print, phone and computing. This data seems to prove a widely-held but strongly debated view that consumers are avoiding most of advertising in programming when they view live TV. The long-held view that consumers still follow a brand message as they shift from one media to the next also seems to be questionable.

The study now ranks computer-based time as the number two media category after live TV. Including web use, email, software and internet messaging, computing time exceeded broadcast radio average duration by 40%. The study suggests computing has now replaced radio as the number two media activity. Radio is now number three and print number four. Print covered major US newspaper and magazines with use around 22 to 41 minutes per day. Claims for the death of print are no longer an exaggeration.

The Council for Research Excellence study shows our typical daily media consumption goes beyond TV to a growing prevalence of new digital screen-based channels. One of the by-products is the finding that suggests we may actually be seeing far less advertising than first thought. Indeed, high levels of media exposure and our attentiveness to advertising may be seemingly unrelated and those oft cited high levels of advertising exposure, possibly no more than a frabrication by media planning and advertising agencies.

While the screen and our fascination with the images upon it have been around for centuries; the variety of screen-based communication channels, our use of their content continues to expand and grow at speed.

Stephen is an international brand strategist, writer and commentator. He is founder and director of strategic brand consultancy DIFFUSION,
and has taught, published and presented extensively in the UK and
Australia on brand and digital strategy, marketing and communication.
You can contact him by email, through his blog, on Twitter or by LinkedIn.


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