A potentially revolutionary media hypothesis was tossed into the ring this week by two Midwestern university professors, following a study of media consumption habits among 7,800 consumers.

According to the authors of the study, Joseph Pilotta, professor of communications at Ohio State University and Don E Schultz, professor emeritus-in-service at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, a majority of respondents claimed they multitasked by simultaneously accessing several media outlets.

In the light of this data, the duo contend that media planners and buyers should jettison their traditional assumptions about frequency and reach in favor of new models structured around simultaneous use of two or more media.

“People are actually involved on a regular and occasional basis with as many as two or sometimes three different media at any given time,” says Pilotta, who argues that TV no longer has an exclusive on prime time from 7pm to 11pm. “It's now media environment time,” he avers.

Today's media decision-making, says Pilotta, is based on a ‘silo’ mentality encouraged by individual media – TV, radio and internet groups each trying to prove its own value. Marketers would, however, be better served by realizing which media is serving to provide “the white noise” in a consumer's environment.

He cites the study’s finding that 59% of males and 67% of females watching TV regularly or occasionally go online at the same time. Of those on the internet, 69% of males and 76% of females regularly or occasionally also watch TV.

Among one consumer segment, women aged 18-34 with one or more children (a favorite target of retailers), less than half, 45%, watch TV only. The rest divide their attention between TV and another form of media: 31% go online, 3% listen to the radio, 9% read newspapers and 9% read magazines. Of those young mothers using the internet, only 20% give their full attention to what they are doing online; 45% are also watching TV, 23% are listening to the radio; 4% are reading magazines and 5% are reading newspapers.

Understanding simultaneous media consumption, Pilotta argues, can also lead to better synergy among media. For example, magazines plus internet ads at certain times of day might better target specific audiences. If online users are at work, they are “visually centered” and may be better reached by a visual ad instead of one using audio.

Both professors also have commercial interests. Pilotta juggles academe with the vice-presidency of research at BIG-research, while Schultz is president of consulting firm Agora. They will present their paper later this week to the American Research Federation meeting in New York.

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff