In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Media Exposure Measurement

  • Introduction
  • Principal Texts
  • Journals
  • Trade Press
  • Sources of Data
  • Historical Perspectives
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Institutional Aspects

Communication Media Exposure Measurement
James G. Webster, Harsh Taneja
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0164


Measuring exposure to media is a common practice around the world. The principle reason for doing so is to authenticate audiences so that media can better serve or sell their audiences. Estimates of audience size and composition are often called “ratings” data. The exposure they document is valued as a gateway to further media influence, whether it’s educating or entertaining the public or selling products and political candidates or ideas. As such, measures of exposure are of interest to media institutions as well as academics studying economics or the effects of media on a range of social issues. Much of the literature noted here addresses the methods used to collect data on media exposure. These include familiar issues of sampling and statistical inference. In a digital age, they also involve the use of servers to capture data on media use across a variety of “platforms.” But since ratings data go to the heart of commercial media’s ability to make money and shape popular culture, exposure measurement also raises a number of “political” issues. Sometimes these play out within the affected industries; sometimes they draw the interest of policymakers and cultural critics.

Principal Texts

These texts cover a wide range of topics related to media exposure measurement. They usually include a history of research practices and a description of the principles methods of measurement (e.g., Bermejo 2007, Beville 1988, Buzzard 2012), as well as insight into the institutional factors that have shaped measurement regimes (e.g., Napoli 2011, Turow 2012). Exposure measurement has been particularly important in commercial media systems. As a result, the subject is often referred to as “ratings research,” and the focus is often on countries like the United States. As other countries have become more dependent on advertiser-supported systems and the World Wide Web has become more pervasive, later titles often adopt a more global perspective on the topic (e.g., Balnaves, et al. 2011; Gunter 2000; Webster, et al. 2014).

  • Balnaves, Mark, Tom O’Regan, and Ben Goldsmith. 2011. Rating the audience: The business of media. London: Bloomsbury.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781849664622

    Chronicles the growth of ratings research around the world, especially in the United States and Australia. Describes the evolution of measurement practices to the present day and how industries have reached consensus on particular audience metrics.

  • Bermejo, Fernando. 2007. The Internet audience: Constitution and measurement. New York: Peter Lang.

    Describes how Internet users have been constituted as audiences. Examines in detail the methods used to measure Internet audiences, and the institutional purposes behind these practices.

  • Beville, Hugh M. 1988. Audience ratings: Radio, television, cable. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    An important, business-oriented treatment of the subject. The “dean of broadcast audience research” provides a detailed history of ratings research in the United States, with reports of methodological studies and business decisions from the early days of radio through the introduction of “people meters.”

  • Buzzard, Karen. 2012. Tracking the audience: The ratings industry from analog to digital. New York: Routledge.

    A concise history of ratings research methods in the United States from early radio, through people meters, to Internet measurement. It highlights how economic, technological, and political issues have affected that history.

  • Gunter, Barrie. 2000. Media research methods: Measuring audiences, reactions and impact. London: SAGE.

    Offers a broad, and therefore not highly detailed, treatment of measuring both media exposure and the consequences of exposure. Covers practices in both the United States and Europe.

  • Napoli, Philip M. 2011. Audience evolution: New technologies and the transformation of media audiences. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Places the topic of media exposure measurement in a larger institutional context to understand how research products are shaped and where current trends will take us. Makes a case for the increased use of engagement metrics and a “post-exposure” era in measurement.

  • Turow, Joseph. 2012. The daily you: How the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your worth. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Although not principally about exposure measurement, this volume provides an extended discussion of how Internet measurement has evolved, especially for purposes of tracking and targeting users.

  • Webster, James G., Patricia F. Phalen, and Lawrence W. Licthy. 2014. Ratings analysis: Audience measurement and analytics. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.

    Describes the history of audience ratings services, the principal methods used to measure exposure, and the institutional factors that shape these practices in the around the world. The analysis and application of these data in practical contexts are also discussed.

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