When it comes to figuring out how people are responding to rapid changes in digital media, the ball increasingly is heading into Ball State University's court.
That school in Muncie, Ind., and its Center for Media Design last week were tapped by Nielsen Media Research's Council for Research Excellence to look at how people are consuming video inside and outside of the home.
That's a topic of huge interest to program providers, distributors and advertisers as video consumption has spread from the television to the computer, the mobile phone and beyond, and as how people consume it has changed.
The project will start out with a pilot study, done in conjunction with media consultants Sequent Partners. According to Mike Bloxham, the Ball State center's director of insight and research, this will be the center's sixth foray into observing individuals' media consumption, as tracked by observers using a touch-screen device.
“We're basically looking to be with people for as much of the day as we possibly can,” Bloxham said. “We'll be with them in the home, at work, in the car and so on, wherever they can consume video.”
The second round of research in its Middletown Media Studies, conducted in 2005, was the broadest observational study to that point about how people consume various media. By shadowing about 400 individuals, the researchers found, for example, that Americans spent 240.9 minutes daily engaged in some way with television. But they also spent about 120 minutes daily on the computer. Women were more likely than men to “multitask” with two or more forms of media than men; and Friday is the busiest day of the week for using the Web, e-mail and phones.
If the Nielsen pilot is picked up, the study that follows would be even broader than the Middletown Media Studies 2 project of that year, which altogether measured 5,000 hours of media use in 15-second increments.
Bloxham's group's recently released “Remotely Interested: Exploring TV Viewers Advertising-Related Behaviors” came up with some classic good-news, bad-news moments for advertisers. Observers tracked 49 people during primetime television hours and recorded how they responded to ads.
“I personally was surprised that a third of the observed ad pods were watched right the way throughout, without any attention shift or scene shift, i.e. nobody either changing the channel or leaving the room or talking to anyone else,” Bloxham said.
The bad news was viewers abandoned ads in progress about 45% of the time. “Polar extremes, almost, in terms of behavior,” he said.
That was only a small sample, though: 49 people in the Muncie and Indianapolis areas observed an average of 3.7 hours during TV's primetime hours.
Games network GSN hired Bloxham and company in late 2005 to study the behavior of viewers who participate in interactive television. GSN had been adding interactive features to advertisements for four years, driving viewers to their computer screens during programs, but there had been no research done on how people respond to them.
One finding that really pleased GSN: Viewers had 100% recall of the interactive ads that they played along with, and retained the information longer than conventional ads, GSN senior vice president of ad sales Chris Raleigh said last week.
Concrete changes that came out of the survey included picking up on viewer interest in obtaining coupons for product discounts. GSN added a click-on feature to ads on its Web site to request coupons mailed to the home.
In fact, viewers in the survey wanted more interactivity during commercial breaks. “We thought that was kind of a holy grail,” to be incented to create an environment where advertisers can feel they're rewarding viewers Raleigh said.
GSN took that information and created “Game Time,” a packaging move that puts a 30-second introduction with a brand-related quiz (say, a question about child safety seats alongside a Saturn automobile logo) ahead of a 30-second ad that's followed by a vignette that answers the quiz.
“It was a great experience,” Raleigh said of the Ball State study, adding GSN hopes to work further with the center and some of its media clients on more research.
If the result of all this research makes ads and the interactive television experience more compelling, then roll on, Ball State, roll on.