It is no secret that television viewing is not done in a vacuum and that viewers are distracted by the environment from paying 100% attention to television program. Past findings by media researchers, going back a half a century, have made this an indisputable fact. Therefore, media buyers and sellers accepted the fact that the ratings as provided by Nielsen and (former TV audience researcher) Arbitron and others have over-stated the true dimension of the TV audience.
Put another way, as long as we have had commercial TV, viewers had only one eye on the screen for the most part, while engaging in other activities simultaneously.
In the "old days" those other activities consisted of people reading magazines and newspapers, snacking and talking while the TV set was on.
Today, people are still engaged in other activities, which increasingly are media-centric, especially the digital media kind. The Internet and the fast-paced march of technology – particularly mobile connectivity – have created a new environment in the home.
During an afternoon session loaded with presentations from important players such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Viacom and Interpret, a standing room-only crowd at last week’s ARF Board Room were treated to some new views of “the viewers.” No longer is the distraction necessarily a bad thing from the programmer’s – or the advertiser’s – point-of-view. Now, it seems that multitasking may in fact be a good development.
Microsoft’s presentation focused on the home, where the living room is still the place where families view most of their TV content. Fully 77% of in-home viewing is done in the living room, but viewers’ attention is now shared by tablets and other mobile devices such as notebook PCs and smartphones.
What is most interesting, and actionable, is that the "distraction" is not a bad thing, since some of the activities include actually watching TV on the tablets or other devices, as well as engaging in one form or another of social networking dealing with the shows on the TV.
Microsoft urged marketers to take notice of the fact that multitasking can be beneficial, and suggested they should embrace the new technologies and leverage these finding to customize their marketing and commercial messages.
Yahoo suggested the exact same thing. Showing credible research conducted by Ipsos ASI (with a sample of some 3,000), they provided evidence that today's TV viewer is, in fact, more engaged than last century viewers. Multitasking by the viewers, while significant - some 80% - can help the advertiser by providing additional and complementary opportunities to present their products and services. Put another way: two screens are better than one.
Not to be outdone, Viacom invented a new word: “tabletomics.”. This word is both a noun and an adjective, and it tells us that tablets play a surprising and important role, augmenting the TV viewing experience.
Viacom, in support of their multiple channels presented convincing research, consisting of a large random sample and ethnographic research. The net findings were that TV's future is promising, as is the future for tablets. The implications, much like the previous presenters was that new technology, specifically tablets, present a golden opportunity for programmers to develop program materials and take advantage of the inherent synergy with TV.
Interpret, took a somewhat broader look at the current multitasking environment. With a presentation entitled, “Utilizing Multiple Screens Effectively: Television’s Role in Mobile Purchasing,” they, nevertheless, came up with similar conclusion: Yes, advertisers can and must do a better job using television to drive purchasing on mobile devices. Consumers are already being influenced by TV, but there is much room to grow. Eighty-seven percent of people have made a purchase in the past year, and 65% of these purchases were for physical products and services. So, far from being a "distraction" mobile devices can actually improve on TV's performance as an advertising tool.