The many benefits of online media research

In the competitive, very fragmented and personal world of media consumption, individuals’ habits are constantly changing, so media research which takes months to produce is about as relevant as yesterday’s paper.

Torin Douglas’ article on whether the National Readership Survey should embrace internet marketing (MW July 27), highlights speed of response as a main inducement for change, but there are others

The NRS’s managing director cites as a major strength, the fact that it interviews 36,000 readers a year, face to face in their own homes – but being interviewed by a stranger has been shown to tempt people to respond in the way they perceive the interviewer would prefer, or say things which bolster their self-esteem.

One of the benefits of online research is its anonymity, which is conducive to honesty and openness (anonymity is, after all, the very reason why political ballots are secret). Also, unlike face-to-face or telephone methodologies, well-managed panels will hold rich information about the sample individuals which allows a deeper insight.

Do respondents give less thought to their answers in un-supervised conditions as NRS spokesmen suggest? My experience, based on researching and continuously tracking media consumption using the media.PULSE online tool, is the opposite.

Media is increasingly being consumed where and when consumers want it. Therefore, they should also be given the opportunity to respond to research where and when they want. The internet not only allows this but can deliver questions in the rich and varied way consumers now expect, because it can encompass sound, creative and video treatments and prompts.

Online research can also save respondents’ time, by automatically cutting out irrelevant questions. For example, if someone says they never read a weekly newspaper, any further questions about weekly newspapers are omitted, similarly, a “yes” answer can automatically trigger follow-up questions, while a “no” will skip them or divert to a different approach.

There are always natural concerns about taking established methodologies into a new medium. This happened when telephone surveys started to replace face-to-face research interviews. Critics then voiced similar concerns to those raised in the article against online surveys.

However, apart from the benefits already mentioned, the accurate and cost-effective online medium delivers real-time, ongoing response and significant results within days, or even hours.

The NRS is the backbone of one of the media industry’s key trading currencies, but it will surely become devalued if it fails to evolve and embrace online research.

Paul Seabrook,

Head of research,


London SE1

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