Another trip down memory lane…to 1932

In the previous post, I took a timely look at a 2004 prediction for how things might be in 2014 – now less than three weeks away.

This time, I truly do want to take a trip down Memory Lane, back to the 1930’s, which in the US is when the roots were being laid down to measure how people use media.

The book, Audience Ratings: Radio, Television, Cable by Hugh Malcolm Beville provides an in-depth and absorbing review of how the media measurement industry began.  The need back then (and now, to some degree) was to show the impact of radio commercials on housewives spending habits in the study named “Sales Begin When Programs Begin” as the author describes below:

This was really an activity diary kept by a sample of 3,042 housewives.  The diary recorded – by half-hour periods 8am-5pm, for an entire week – the listening of household members plus the housewife’s other activities (whether accompanied listening or not) such as preparing meals, doing laundry, housekeeping, shopping). The purpose was to demonstrate a significant level of daytime listening by housewives, and that listening often accompanied or preceded activities in which advertisers’ products were used (soaps, cleansers, food, etc.).  Audience data by half hours for men, women, and children were published.

Seemingly, the simplicity of measuring media behavior in the 1930’s is in stark contrast to today.  Traditional media such as Radio, Television, and Newspapers struggle to measure usage in an age in which users no longer fit into easy-to-understand categories.  Add the fact that the digital side is awash with metrics and it’s not surprising that measuring any form of media behavior is becoming more complicated and expensive Then there are entities such as The Media Impact Project, that I highlighted earlier which want to take things in a very different direction for media measurement by focusing on impact rather than reach.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not wanting to go back to seemingly simpler times, least of all the hardship of the 1930’s.   For media measurement, the next decade will be fascinating.  Hopefully, we will all better understand how people use media so that we can tell and explain better stories.  But amidst all of the big data and the struggle to tell and share story lines, it’s worth making sense of where we are now by stepping back to see where it began.


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