Screen Time: Study Parses How, When We Watch

On average, TV viewers watch more than an hour of commercials every day. That fun factoid comes courtesy of a new study released Thursday from the Council for Research Excellence, an industry group funded by the Nielsen Company.

Among the findings of the Video Consumer Mapping Study (highlights are here): Most people average more than eight hours a day facing a screen of some sort — whether it be a television, computer, mobile phone or even GPS.

Researchers from Ball State University's Center for Media Design followed 450 people — literally followed them — from shortly after they woke up to before they went to bed and recorded, in 10-second increments, how the subjects consumed their media. Each subject was shadowed for two days.

The researchers were surprised to learn that younger baby boomers, aged 45 to 54, averaged roughly an hour more screen time than any other age group, including teenagers.

Advertising executive Shari Anne Brill, who was involved with the study, says it provides definitive data to advertisers more accustomed to hearsay and unreliable self-reporting.

"There's been numbers floating around the industry saying that consumers are exposed to, on average, 500 ads a day, and a lot of those numbers are pretty much ... fictional, to use the most polite word," Brill said.

Advertisers are just one of the numerous industries figuring out how to get ads on the various screens we look at for much of our waking lives.

Analyst James L. McQuivey of Forrester Research says traditional television has never been more popular or powerful. But consumers are challenging the old model of mass viewership by getting and watching their favorite shows in new ways.

"We still want to watch TV," he says. "We just don't need it delivered the way it was in the past, and we don't need four different ways to watch the same TV shows."

The next big challenge facing the industry will be giving people the ability to watch their shows whenever they want on the screen of their choosing. What consumers crave, says McQuivey, is control.

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