Northeastern University Professor Studies the Behavior of Media Multitasking Teens

March 6, 2008

Research looks at media multitasking behavior of young consumers

Today’s teenagers are known to have multiple types of media going at the same time, including Instant Messenger, MP3, email, social networking sites, online shopping, mobile phones, iPods,  and TV. Companies trying to reach this market are eager to find out what media these multitasking teens pay the most attention to and how they process the information that is coming to them through various media. Northeastern University Professor Fareena Sultan and her co-authors (Professors Andrew Rohm and Fleura Bardhi, also of Northeastern) have been studying the media multitasking behavior of teens on a global level.

The researchers’ recent study, titled “Tuning In and Tuning Out: and Exploratory Study on Media Multitasking Using Young Consumers,” has recently been completed in the U.S. and results will be compared to data they plan to collect in Europe and Asia where they will repeat the study.

“We know that the youth market is very similar across different continents in terms of how these young consumers process information coming to them via different channels. However, there may be differences due to the consumption context” said Sultan, Associate Professor of Marketing and Morrison Fellow at Northeastern’s College of Business Administration. “The purpose of comparing the U.S. to Europe and Asia as part of this research study is to be able to identify the similarities and difference in youth consumers’ media behavior across global markets.”

As a first step of the study, Sultan and her co-authors determined that while young people use multiple types of media at the same time, the one device they cannot be without is the cell phone. Therefore, as part of surveying the behavior of this age group in the U.S., Sultan and co-authors sent the volunteering respondents of their marketing classes at Northeastern the same short survey in the form of text messages every four hours for a week. The short questions of the survey aimed to find out what respondents were doing at the time, including how many and what types of media they had on and which ones they were paying the most attention to.

The survey phase of the study was carried out in one week with the help of Enpocket, a Boston-based mobile advertising service, recently acquired by Nokia. The company will work with the Northeastern researchers to replicate the study abroad, starting with a similar survey in Europe.

Sultan’s research aims to uncover patterns of behavior of young media multitaskers, including how media multitasking varies by context, time of day, experience and demographics. The results will have implications for industry to propose solutions to effectively reach this market. Among the potential marketing implications  a better understanding of: how these young consumers multitask and which media do they tune in to and tune out; how key constructs such as engagement and attention vary in multitasking situations and how to reach young consumers who are doing so many things simultaneously.

For more information on Professor Fareena Sultan’s research, please contact Renata Nyul at 617-373-7424 or at r.nyul@neu.edu.

About Northeastern

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston.  Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world.  The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions.  For more information, please visit www.northeastern.edu.

For more information, please contact Renata Nyul at 617-373-7424 or at r.nyul@neu.edu.

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