Use of the Cell Phone as a Media Measurement Device

by Larry Rosin, President, Edison Media Research

In March of this year, Edison conducted a national random sample of 1000 persons 12+. Of these interviews, 927 were conducted on landlines, and 73 were conducted among those who are “cell phone only” — representing the current best-estimate of the cell phone only population.
Here are Edison’s primary conclusions:
1) The cell phone has become widely used, with 70% of Americans 12+ now using a cell phone. In millions of cases, the cell phone is now a constant companion, as is perhaps one’s keys and wallet. Thus, there is a logic to making this already widely-used device do yet one more thing. However, only 50% of those 65+ carry a cell phone, and the parents of those 6-11 tell us that only 8% of these children carry cell phones.
2) The typical cell phone user employs a broad list of habits that will require retraining if the cell phone is to be super-purposed as a media measurement device. Many people don’t carry their phones (for instance, 50% of respondents with cell phones tell us they turn them off while they are awake between 7pm and midnight). Nine percent of cell phone users told us they had loaned them to friends or family members for more than a few hours in the week before they were contacted. There are any number of behaviors that cell phone users will have to be retrained on for the cell phone to be relied on to measure media usage.
3) More importantly, the publicly announced plan to give out free phones and free minutes could significantly influence the very behavior that the phones attempt to measure. Many respondents told us that they would listen to less radio if given free phones or minutes. In fact, 14% of those who do not have cell phones told us that they expect that they would listen to less radio if they were given a free cell phone.
The proponents of the cell-phone as media measurement device must consider changing their co-operation fees to something other than phones and minutes. Further, they will have to do significant studies to determine the impact of the phone itself on the media it is attempting to measure.
The bottom line is that Arbitron, Media Audit, the radio industry, or others will need to do massive amounts of further research testing before determining whether or not the cell phone can function as a media measurement device. As of today, there are many unanswered questions about the suitability of the cell phone for this purpose.
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