Intermedia Comparisons

Mass media serve multiple roles in modern life.  In terms of their most basic functions, mass media provide information and entertainment.  Because people use mass media to meet these two important needs in their lives, mass media are leveraged to become vehicles for purposes such as advertising, education, propaganda, nation building, etc. 

We will now show some data from the TGI Panama study.  This is a survey of 1,014 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old, conducted in Panama City during 2001.  According to the study, the overall usage levels of six major media are:

The six charts below show the usage to six media --- broadcast television, radio, newspaper, magazines, cable/satellite television and internet --- separately by the three levels of socio-economic levels. 




According to this table, broadcast television and radio are true mass media that have universal reach that cut across socio-economic classes.  The other four media show various degrees of skewed penetration by socio-economic level.  In part, this is a class issue (see our article Distinction: Television Program Choice by Social Class).  More simply, this is just an economic issue --- whereas broadcast media are free service (that is, as long as you have the equipment to receive the broadcast signals), the other media have to be paid for on a regular basis and therefore require compelling reasons to maintain.

However, the purpose of this article is not to discuss the class distinctions of mass media in Panama today.  Rather, we were hoping that you had read those charts carefully to realize that the vertical axes are not produced on the same basis.  Mass media audiences are measured by surveys according to methodologies that have been developed and harmonized across the world.  Here is the detailed description of the methodology for the six mass media in the TGI Panama study:

Historically, each mass medium evolved its own methodology to provide reasonable audience estimates based upon its unique set of circumstances.  What is appropriate for one medium is quite unsuitable for another.  Unfortunately, these divergent methodologies make it very difficult and awkward to make intermedia comparisons.  By the way, we have spared our readers from the measurement issues related to place-based media such as outdoor advertising and kiosks.

This leads to an interesting question: Ignoring the entire histories of media research thus far, is there a common yardstick by which these media can be measured and compared?  One suggestion would be to ask a universal question based upon 'yesterday recall'.  Each respondent is thus asked if they have used any of the media on the day before the interview and, if so, to provide an estimate of the amount of time spent.  While this appears to be a simple solution, this may seriously put the print media in a disadvantage.  On a total-time-spent basis, we would expect the mass media to be ranked from high to low as follows:  broadcast television, radio, cable/satellite television, newspapers and magazines.  But is it fair to compare the three hours of broadcast television viewing against the ten minutes of magazine reading?  More precisely, should the ratio of importance be 180 minutes to 10 minutes, or 18 to 1?  Magazine reading is a highly focused experience which has the near total attention of the reader, and perhaps should not be treated on the same basis as television viewing which is often a secondary activity (see our article Television as Companion).

We do not claim that we know what the correct intermedia comparison methodology ought to be.  The difficulty is there because we are trying to compare things that are different in essential ways, and so we should not expect simple and clean solutions.  Nevertheless, the reality is that communication campaigns do have to be devised by allocating resources among different mass media.  So this issue will remain a constant challenge. 

(posted by Roland Soong, 11/23/2001)

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