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Exclusive: Simultaneous media use rife, new study finds

By Published on .

marketers spending some $231 billion a year in planning and buying media to reach today's consumers need to dump long-standing assumptions about frequency and reach in favor of new models built around simultaneous use of two or more media. That's the conclusion of a new study by two Midwestern university professors who surveyed 7,800 consumers, most of whom are multitasking by simultaneously using several media outlets.

"People are actually involved on a regular and occasional basis with as many as two or sometimes three different media at any given time," said Joseph Pilotta, a professor of communications at Ohio State University and VP research, BIGresearch. TV no longer has an exclusive on prime time from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., "It's now media environment time," he said.

Dr. Pilotta co-authored the study with Don E. Schultz, president of consulting firm Agora, and professor emeritus-in-service at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. It will be presented this week at the American Research Federation meeting in New York.

`Silo' mentality

Dr. Pilotta said today's media decision-making model is based on a "silo" mentality fostered by individual media companies and organizations, such as TV, radio and Internet groups, each trying to prove its individual medium's worth. But marketers, he said, would be better served by realizing which media is serving to provide "the white noise" in a consumer's environment.

The study found, for example, that 59% of males and 67% of females watching TV regularly or occasionally go online at the same time. Of those on the Internet, 69% of males and 76% of females regularly or occasionally also watch TV. Among a favorite target of retailers-women aged 18-34 with one or more children-less than half, 45%, watch TV only. The rest divide their attention between TV and another form of media: 31% go online, 3% listen to the radio, 9% read newspapers and 9% read magazines. Of those young mothers using the Internet, only 20% give their full attention to what they are doing online; 45% are also watching TV, 23% are listening to the radio; 4% are reading magazines and 5% are reading newspapers.

word-of-mouth power

Dr. Pilotta said simultaneous media usage has great implications beyond media buying decisions and impacts creative as well, since marketers can no longer operate on the assumption that viewers are actually giving their message undivided attention. It also has untapped value in what his study and many others have documented as the biggest consumer buying influencer of all, word of mouth. By working messages through both the Internet and other media, word-of-mouth buzz can be "diffused faster and in real time," he said. "Word of mouth just doesn't come out of thin air. It can be created and produced by simultaneous media experiences."

Understanding simultaneous media consumption also can lead to better synergy among media. For example, perhaps magazines and Internet ads during certain times of the day would better target specific audiences. If online users are at work, they are "visually centered" and may be better reached by a visual ad instead of one using audio.

Erwin Ephron, partner, Ephron, Papazian & Ephron, New York, said numerous studies have found that TV and the Internet seem to go together for many consumers. Marketers, meanwhile, he said, have realized since the 1970s that they have not had consumers' undivided attention, with many eating, reading or doing other activities with the TV on. "There are significant levels of simultaneous use," he said. "But it's hard to tell what that means."

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