Second Screening And The Politics Of Attention
For instance, a Nielsen study recently showed that the share of tweeting going on during ad pods in a given hour of programming roughly equaled the share of ad time in that hour. The metric prompts both glass-half-full and half-empty arguments. The second-screen activity is going on during pods, but it doesn't seem to spike. In other words, it doesn't look as if people are any more distracted than usual from the TV during ad breaks. This may actually be discouraging for programmers.
On the other hand, a new qualitative and quantitative research piece from Vivaki's The Pool consortium of tech, media and marketers found a considerable amount of distraction from the TV during ad spots. This new Two Screen Lane of ongoing research from The Pool was looking specifically at behaviors around the third-party second-screen app Zeebox involving Viacom TV programming and second-screen ad units from Kraft Mio brand and another advertiser. Zeebox has a standing deal with Viacom to run complementary content during select programs. With this focus group, they ran a combination of rich media ads and static ads as well as dual-screen synchronized ad units.
Using eye gaze-tracking technology from Tobii Technology, 40 members of a focus group were studied as they used the Zeebox app in tandem with MTV and VH1 programming, specifically the shows “Ridiculousness” and “Best Week Ever.” In this group while the main TV programming was on 69% of the focus was on the main TV screen, but when the commercial pod started, the shift was dramatic to the second screen, which 67% going to the app. The Zeebox app has a variety of panes, including show background information, annotations for topics in the show, and polls, as well as a social media feed.
Not surprisingly, the group focused foremost on the social media feed, which was responsible for 40% of attention. That conforms with a lot of anecdotal evidence I have seen about second screen behaviors. Much of the audience interest really involves conversation not complementary content. As much as TV programmers would love to engage viewers with more ancillary content that bolts them to the show and its characters, in this test only 16% of attention went to that material. That should not be discouraging, however, if you consider that background detail is a different content type from social media. Social media is perennially refreshed and requires more attention, whereas ancillary program content can be absorbed once and then ignored.
Obviously, the challenge posed by the baseline attention numbers is retrieving some of the lost attention during ad pods. This focus group had only 23.1% of its attention on the main screen during commercial breaks. But again, let's put that stat into reasonable context. Tablets and smartphones did not invent living room multitasking. Before the iPad became my viewing partner, there was a laptop there and a stack of magazines to which my gaze focused during ads. Likewise, the lure of the refrigerator and conversation with family have been there for a number of decades as well.
If TV distraction is a “problem” it is only one for advertisers and programmers, not for consumers. Which is to say that attempts to retrieve our attention through synchronized promoted tweets or cross-screen ads is not solving anything for the viewer. Nevertheless, this research suggests how powerfully the second screen is a way to capture that attention. The eye gaze-tracking of ads shown in the Zeebox interface were being seen at least once by 92% of the users, and almost 8 in 10 users saw the most prominently displayed ads on the first exposure. Still, users were most likely to click on content within the social media section of the app, followed in frequency by complementary program content and then on the ads.
These results also suggest that second-screen advertising likely has a strong branding impact. A post-exposure study of only users who had and had not been exposed to ad units in the Zeebox app showed a lift in most key metrics such as unaided awareness (+73%), aided awareness (+10%), ad recall (+45%) and brand favorability (+19%).
In a broad way, this first wave of research from The Pool certainly suggests the promise of brand impact on the second screen. It still begs the question of what kinds of experiences really will attract the user to a tablet or smartphone that they are using most often for email and unrelated multitasking. Yes -- there is evidence that people on second screens do look up additional programming and advertiser information, but most of these stats tend to inflate users having said that they have done so at some point. In other words, it is entirely unclear to me that second-screeners are engaging in brand lookups and program complements on a widespread and habitual basis.
While starting with great promise a few years ago, the
dedicated second-screen apps seem to have fallen from view and favor in the past year as many of us face up to the reality of consumer preferences. Twitter is winning this battle for second-screen
attention because its brevity and ubiquity maps well against living room use with a main TV screen dominating attention.
Part of The Pool survey, of course, was trying to validate Zeebox and its format as a viable platform, and so the study asked and discovered most users said they liked the all-in-one second-screen app experience. All well and good, but that doesn't mean users want to be anchored to a third party (or even a first party) app as a viewing companion when their devices hold so much more attractive alternatives.
Even within the exceptional second-screen apps like Zeebox and others, the main focus of attention is on the social media feed. It appears that only a small slice of the audience really wants that immersive, dedicated two-screen experience while watching a show. Even most of the TV networks will admit as much when discussing their show apps.
Companies like Zeebox, Viggle, Shazam, Yahoo’s IntoNow, Getglue are all scrambling to
grab those moments of distraction with a range of tactics. And it feels like more of a scramble. Personally, impressionistically, I suspect that second-screen apps are battling against a set of
traditions that are hard to beat. Perhaps we always coveted that ad pod time as necessary breaks from the immersive nature of TV programming and enjoyed the interstitials we had built for ourselves --
conversation, reading in patches, peeing. Smartphones and tablets may be experienced as personal liberations from the low level tyranny of the mass communication.
Maybe we don't want to be corralled back in because at heart we are doing something much more than being “distracted from” the main screen.