It is interesting to note the 1946 head of 20th Century Fox’s prediction about television: that it won’t hold on to its audience after the first six months, and that soon people will get tired staring at a “plywood box” every night. Well here mankind is, more than fifty years later, still staring at that plywood box, getting more hooked as time goes by. Statistics show that on average, an American watches more than 4 hours of television everyday, and that 99 percent of American families own at least 1 television set.
Nobody can doubt anymore how much media’s influence is on people’s lives. Though part of mass media’s goals is to provide a reflection of society and to cater to the tastes of the general public, it also takes an active role in shaping society itself. That’s why media research is highly important and complex, in that it is a tool to understanding two sides of the coin: the phenomenon of media influence, and the consumer influence on media. If you are interested in getting a brief background on how to do media research, here are some pointers:
- Understand media research, and what it’s for. Media research is a complex science that aims to study the interrelation between various forms of media, particularly TV, radio and print and its users. Media research has many different goals, such as to develop effective marketing strategies, to find out the effects of media on different age groups (particularly on the youth), for news research, to develop new TV shows and programs and to improve existing ones, to develop program scheduling, and to create policies that would help enhance TV’s positive effects and inhibit its negative effects.
- Know the different tools and methods used. The common tool for doing media research is through surveys and public research. Many media research firms create surveys either administered by a research personnel, or directly answered by the respondent. There are also discussion groups conducted wherein several respondents are interviewed and asked their opinion about specific media issues. For example, a focus group discussion may be conducted headed by one researcher, whose goal is to find out the best strategy for marketing a shampoo. The researcher may determine details of the commercial (such as the setting, appearance of the commercial model, or even color theme to use) by using visual aids wherein the group will express their preferences, or by employing subtle or direct questioning strategies. To do audience research on TV show ratings, many media research firms ask their sample population to fill out TV diaries where they would list down in detail the TV show they watched every time they turn on the channels. Some other communications research firms use set meters, wherein devices are installed to the TV set of a sample population. The set meter enables researchers to study the actual viewing activity (including channel changes and amount of time spent watching one specific channel) on a per-minute basis. One step further than the set meter is the people meter, wherein each member of the household is assigned their own viewing button. This enables researchers to gather TV preference data based on viewer’s sex and age.
- Analyze your data. Once you have your data, it’s important to know how to both quantify them and to interpret them. For this, it’s best to take up courses on statistical methods and analysis of data. Of course, your method of research will dictate what types of data you will gather; if you use people meters, for example, you’d get to analyze for example the TV preference of a specific age group within a specified period of time.
There you have it! This is just a brief overview on how to do media research. If you want to find out more details, you could sign up for a course on mass communications and media research at your local community college or at an online school. It’s a good investment to further your knowledge in this area (specially if you are already so inclined) since it’s highly probable that mass media in its various forms is here to stay.