August 8, 2007
People Are Consuming Less Media? But What Does That Mean?

A new study finds that consumers are spending .5 percent less time annually with media this year than one year ago. But what does that mean?

The study won't really tell you definitively. It was from Veronis Suhler Stevenson, who did provide their hypotheses about it--that it was due to digital alternatives taking less time than traditional media and therefore being quicker. It would be interesting to know more about what is and is not considered media, and about what people who would report a declining time spent on media were spending that time on instead...After all, with a finite amount of time in the world, the question is where that time goes to instead.

The study also found, however, that media usage has grown 3.2 percent at work, which also makes sense in relation to a continuing rise in time spent consuming online media. While watching television or listening to the radio while working might be a little more difficult, there's something more private (and easier to hide, if your job requires you hide it) about consuming media online, and being able to look at media in conjunction with work, with multiple windows open on the screen. (That spreadsheet, of course, to pop up when a supervisor walks by.)

Find more about the report here.

People are speculating on what this means. For instance, see David Rothman's post about what this means for book culture. Meanwhile, Adam Broitman questions what this means and why the idea that a move to digital culture explains the differences may be misleading (for instance, pointing out a lack of distinction regarding engagement in relation to this study).

I find the idea somewhat confusing as well. If we expect the amount of time people "consume media" to continually increase, won't people eventually spend more time than there are even hours in a day consuming media? After all, there are natural limits. But this idea of people being more economical interests me particularly. After all, in relation to digital culture, there's more media than ever available, especially in print form. My question is what does and does not constitute media consumption at this point.

If anyone has any suppositions as to how these definitions are laid out, I would love to read them.




Great points! I think that whether or not people are spending less time with media, the time they are spending is potentially more meaningful/engaging. In this study, do they conssider what I am doing write now (commenting on a blog) consumption. After all, production is the new consumption!

On August 8, 2007 at 6:57 PM, Scott Ellington said:

"We are in the midst of a major shift in the media landscape that is being fueled by changes in technology, end-user behaviors and the response by brand marketers and communications companies," said James Rutherfurd, Executive Vice President and Managing Director at VSS. "We expect these shifts to continue over the next five years, as time and place shifting accelerate while consumers and businesses utilize more digital media alternatives, strengthening the new media pull model at the expense of the traditional media push model."

This quote isn't exactly news, but the perplexing headline suggests that something strange is happening. And yes, it certainly is, just not at VSS.


Adam, exactly my point! What is the line between production and consumption? Is writing on a discussion board about a media property consumption? What about reading that board? If reading is but writing isn't, what if you are reading in order to respond. Does that count as consumption or production? Do we distinguish between "official" and "amateur" texts? If reading a conversation on a discussion board IS consuming a text, why isn't IMing? Do we consider a mutliperson textual conversation media consumption but not a one-on-one text conversation? Does public versus private matter? I guess some statistics just sound too good to be true. Cool to measure how much people consume media; dubious without knowing what that means.

On August 9, 2007 at 10:25 AM, Eleanor Baird said:

Sam, I wonder if when they say that media consumption is down, what exactly they are counting, if it's just time with the content or time with the ads? I would believe it if we were spending 0.5% less time with media because we're skipping advertising or seeing it as we view the content, as we would online. Alternatively, could this just be, as the VSS news release suggests ( just a period of adjustment where people are deciding which media they will use for which purposes and spending less time "shopping" or figuring out how to find the sources they want. Although I'm not sure what this means, the release also says "institutional time spent with media increased 3.2%" maybe it's more a question of the context and purpose of what the media is used for.
And, really, it's only an aggregated decline over one year in one report so, although it could be a harbinger of things to come, it could also just be a blip.


Your question poses another interesting side to the comments I made a little while ago, re: what counts as media. If it is about the advertising, then it's certainly only commercial media, but what "is" and "isn't" commercial media is not as easy a distinction as one would think, either.

I don't mean to suggest, though, that this study is useless, but just as with some of the other posts we've had here recently (re: engagement and reputations in PR, for instance), it's important to realize what the data is saying and not to overstep those boundaries. Sometimes, the data gets blamed for a lot of the supposition that comes with it...:)