TV and Mobile Device Usage: Two Sides of the Coin

Today’s guest post on Discovery Blog is from Pam Pearce, Senior Director of Ad Sales Research, for Discovery Communications.

Discovery Communications LogoIs simultaneous usage of personal mobile devices competition for or a complement to “traditional” television viewing? The quick answer to that question is, “it depends.”

There are those who point out that the ever-increasing number of mobile devices used while watching TV (which we’ve defined for this study as viewership on a traditional TV set) is a pure distraction, decreasing the attention paid to content on the “big screen.” While there are certainly numerous circumstances where that is true, there also is growing evidence that having a second device within easy reach while watching can provide a more interactive and engaging experience. The potential to unlock this “Engagement Effect” is likely greater than previously understood and can be facilitated by advertisers and content producers alike.

In the past few years, the number of devices TV viewers have at their fingertips has grown significantly. In 2014, 42% of U.S adults own a tablet (Source: Pew Internet and American Life), and smartphone penetration has grown to seven in 10 adults (Source: Nielsen). For many, these devices have become constant companions, as nearly eight in 10 smartphone owners report having their phone on or near them for all but up to two hours of their waking day (Source: MediaBistro’s All Twitter). While these always-on and always-around devices did not create multitasking viewers, they have significantly expanded the opportunities to engage with other activities while watching TV. Not surprisingly, this has led some marketers to voice concerns around simultaneous usage and its impact on television’s advertising effectiveness.

Discovery Communications asked viewers of its networks (specifically, those owning mobile devices) to learn more about their simultaneous usage and perceptions of the impact mobile devices are having on their TV viewing. The results of the survey show that while large numbers are using their mobile device while watching TV (82%), the majority do not see them as a distraction. 52% of viewers say that even when they are using a mobile device they are paying more attention to the TV show or program while it is on.

Smartphones Dominate Among All Ages

Not surprisingly, smartphones are the most commonly used device used while watching TV, with 45% of respondents saying they used one the last time they were watching. This percentage is higher among younger viewers (A18-34), at 55%. After smartphones, the mobile device of choice varies by age. While Adults 18-34 are reaching for their laptops (49%), among Adults 35-54, tablets are the next device of choice (35%).

Device Usage While Watching TV

Social (But Not Social Media) Drives Usage of Mobile While Watching

Television is one of the most talked about topics on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Among Discovery viewers, however, it is other social activities that are driving them to reach for their mobile devices while watching TV. We continue to see evidence of the relevance of texting – with 62% of viewers saying they text with friends or family while watching TV. While the majority (56%) of viewers report using their mobile device to check social media while watching TV, far less are active – with just 36% updating their status on a social platform and 18% Tweeting.

Nearly a Quarter of Second-Screen Activity Related to the TV

Activities such as checking email, playing games and watching video content are popular among simultaneous users. While some of these can be perceived as competitive, drawing attention away from the TV screen, there are many other activities viewers take part in while watching TV that can be complimentary, enhancing their TV viewing experience.

Competitive vs. Complementary

A large majority of those polled (61%) say they look up information on their mobile device as they view. Nearly half say they browse for products online, with 27% making purchases while watching TV. Overall, the survey found that 23% of viewers’ simultaneous mobile activities are related to what they are watching on TV. There is evidence that the usage of mobile devices may in fact be beneficial to commercial impact. 28% of viewers reported they are more likely to search for a product advertised on TV if they are using their mobile device while watching. A similar percent say they are less likely to fast forward through what they are watching if they are using a mobile device.

Whether it is competitive or complementary, there are some occasions where viewers are not looking for a simultaneous experience. This is especially true when a show draws them in. High show engagement results in lower simultaneous mobile device usage. 76% of viewers say they use their mobile device less when watching a show they are really enjoying. Still, there are some viewers who opt to not make a choice as to which screen to look at. According to the study, 33% of viewers say they pause their TV when they want to use their mobile device.

The truth is viewers have always had the opportunity to engage in simultaneous activities while watching television, be it reading a book or magazine, having a conversation with someone, etc. For many, today’s mobile devices are just replacements for other types of simultaneous behavior they were already engaging in. A key difference, however, is that these devices also create new opportunities – both for the viewers to become informed and act and for marketers to connect and engage.