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:
97.9% watched broadcast television
90.7% listened to radio
58.7% read newspapers
46.7% read magazines
25.6% watched cable/satellite television
19.9% used the Internet
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:
For broadcast television, the respondents are
shown a sheet that lists the logos of the broadcast television networks in
Panama City (FETV, RPC, Telemetro, TVN). A respondent is a
broadcast television viewer if he/she has viewed any of the networks within
the last seven days. It is noted that the total number of viewing
hours is irrelevant under this definition.
For radio, the respondents are shown a sheet
that lists all of the radio stations in Panama City, including their call
letters, nicknames and AM/FM frequencies. A respondent is a radio
listener if he/she answers affirmatively to having listened to any of these
stations within the last seven days. It is noted that the total number
of listening hours is irrelevant under this definition.
For newspapers, this is done for weekday
(Monday-Saturday) and Sunday newspapers. For weekday newspapers, the
respondent is shown a page of black-and-white reproduction of the mastheads
of the local daily newspapers (El Panamá América, La Prensa,
El Siglo, El Universal, etc), and a reader is someone who said
that they have read or looked into the last published issue before the day
of the survey interview. For weekend newspapers, the respondent is
show a page of black-and-white reproduction of the mastheads of the local
Sunday newspapers, and a reader is someone who said that they have read or
looked into the last published issue before the day of the survey
interview. Finally, a newspaper reader is someone who is either a
weekday or Sunday newspaper reader.
For magazines, this is done separately for
magazines with different publication intervals (weekly, bi-weekly,
tri-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, tri-monthly). For each group of
magazines, the respondent is shown a page of black-and-white reproduction of
the magazine logos, and a reader is someone who said that they have read or
looked into a copy of the magazine within the publication period (that is,
within the last seven days for a weekly magazine, within the last 30 days
for a monthly magazine, etc). It is noted that the actual issue of the
magazine is irrelevant, so that the issue read may be two years old, for
For cable/satellite television, the
respondents are shown a sheet that lists the logos of cable/satellite
networks (e.g. Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery Channel, Canal Fox, ESPN,
etc). A respondent is a cable/satellite television if he/she has
viewed any of these networks within the last seven days. It is noted
that cable/satellite television is not required to be present in the home,
because the respondent could have seen it elsewhere. It is also noted
that the total number of viewing hours is irrelevant under this definition.
For internet, the respondents are simply asked if they have used the Internet within the last 30 days. The amount of time spent is irrelevant under this definition. Also, the types of activity are also irrelevant, so that the respondent may have used it just once to send an e-mail.
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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