Doubling The Viewing Value


“Multiscreeners” - viewers who use a tablet or smartphone while watching TV - are significantly more likely to stay in the room and not change channels during commercial breaks.

They also become more engaged in the program and advertisements, according to a new British study, “Screen Life: The View from the Sofa.”  The Thinkbox research was designed to help marketers understand the increasingly popular context in which viewers simultaneously look at their handsets while watching TV.

Although there’s a popular misconception that such viewers are distracted from the program and commercials, the Thinkbox report, based on COG Research findings, points to new opportunities in developing two-screen experiences. The report takes on added timeliness, given the multiscreen emphasis that Comcast and NBCUniversal are placing on the Olympics coverage.

For example, the study identified that 81% of multiscreeners stayed in the room and did not change the channel during the ad break. That compares to 72% of TV-only viewers who stayed tuned during commercials. Screen Life study participants said that multiscreening - like other new TV technologies, such as digital video recorders - makes them feel closer to TV by enabling them to research what they watch, share with online friends and participate in the show.

Nearly one-third of multiscreeners chat about TV shows or ads on a second screen; this rises to 56% for viewers aged 16 to 24 years old. The study found that 22% chatted via text; 18% via social media; 10% via mobile messenger services.

Thinkbox’s simultaneous viewing/texting findings are almost identical to those in the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project report last week about “connected viewers” who use their mobile devices to supplement their TV viewing.

The complex Thinkbox/COG psycho-physiological analysis acknowledges that many viewers conduct non-video-related functions while watching TV, such as checking email or general web surfing. But the study also uncovered a variety of TV-enhancing behaviors.

For example, when only one person was in the room and was multiscreening, 64% of their TV viewing sessions lasted for longer than 15 minutes. This compares to 47% when watching with no accompanying activity. When two people were present, the increased personal interaction dropped the level to 41% of viewing sessions lasting longer than 15 minutes.

That was a reminder about the growing role of personal viewing. Yet the researchers also concluded that multiscreening may encourage more shared and family TV viewing. Study participants said that partners and children are more likely to keep a TV viewer company if they can multiscreen. Previously they might have not stayed in the room.

Most significantly, the study found that multiscreening does not affect ad recognition. In a companion lab test, Thinkbox found that there was “no significant difference in the level of ad recognition between people when multiscreening or only watching TV.”

Neil Mortensen, Thinkbox’s research and planning director, concludes that multiscreening gives viewers “the ability to act on what they see immediately. We’ve always multitasked in front of the TV, but two screening is an incredibly complementary accompaniment.”

The report adds to the growing evidence that viewers will take advantage of the new tools available to them. Networks from HBO and Showtime to ESPN are already capitalizing on the enhanced opportunity. For example, Showtime will present a simul-viewing feature (offering character info, plot summaries and more) to accompany every major primetime show during the coming season. ESPN is readying similar multiscreening options, such as personalized instant replays via second-screen devices, for the coming college football season.

Clearly, there is more than one way to watch what happens at the same time.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at