Commentary

Time To Admit Second Screening Is A Myth?

An interview a few years ago with the former director of both the CIA and the NSA, General Michael Hayden, left his guiding philosophy permanently etched in my brain. Most conversations with President Bush would include the axiom that he freely shared with anyone wondering how they should first approach world events. You can see the world how you want it, or how it is. That's the simple advice. Data trumps emotion. It's a little like singer Paloma Faith asking "do you want the truth or something beautiful?"

A researcher from Bristol's University of West England may have uncovered just such an example of an inconvenient truth that social media marketers might not want to hear about second screening. Dr Sherryl Wilson's conclusion is a backhanded compliment if ever there was one. Sure, it exists and it happens, but only when shows are boring or intrinsically social in their nature. So it's only when we're not engaged in a drama or we're watching a quiz show or variety show that is encouraging the use a hashtag that we will consider second screening.

Using a study group of mixed ages, from Millennials to pensioners, she claims that when a show is compelling, people ignore their phone because -- and here's the common sense bit -- they don't want to be distracted from their favourite, gripping drama. She even quips that a supporting app for "The Walking Dead," which lets people guess how many zombies will be killed, was shunned when the show was on.

In an interview with The Telegraph, which features her research, Dr Wilson is pretty scathing about the industry -- which, she believes, doesn't listen to researchers but just keeps on pumping out statistics publicised by social media companies and start-ups that claim to be making "tv social." Her point is that it is far too simplistic to think of tv as a lean-back experience all the time, while digital is always a lean-forward experience which means they are somehow bound together through second screening. 

Television shows may well trigger conversations and reactions that are shared with fellow fans of the series, but there is a simple rule. When the show is compelling, people of all ages switch off their phones and watch it. Dr Wilson claims that her research concurs with previous academic studies which digital marketing gurus ignore because they don't want to be corrected.

When you think about it and you want to see the world as it is, rather than how you'd prefer it to be, this all makes perfect common sense. If there's a hashtag vote put up on the screen to talk about pointless Z list celebrities in a show about people who are famous for being famous, it's likely that the lack of gripping content will make fans of that sort of thing post a social comment. People participating in quiz shows from the couch might compare their claimed successes too.

However, if you're talking about the truly gripping dramas -- something like "Homeland" or "House of Cards" -- it just stands to reason the shows are so good, you can't bear to divert your attention away. That's the very simple reason why people don't.

It's always great to get a study that speaks to the common-sense voice inside your head and serves as an antidote to the next guru at a conference putting up a slide deck that demonstrates how tv has changed forever thanks to second screening. It has in part for shows that are just kind of on in the background, but for the shows you're going to talk about around the water cooler the next morning, it most certainly has not.

4 comments about "Time To Admit Second Screening Is A Myth?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, April 19, 2016 at 8:26 a.m.

    It's good to see that at least someone realizes that most TV viewers watch shows that they like and when these are especially involving----as often happens---they aren't tweeting or being tweeted at---they are watching their TV screens.

  2. Long Ellis from Longview Media Consulting, April 19, 2016 at 6:10 p.m.

    I think another question to ask is whether people jump to use their mobile devices when the TV commercials come on. That is the elephant in the room that everyone in the TV ad business is trying to ignore. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 19, 2016 at 7:06 p.m.

    Long, Nielsen has supplied some indicative data on this subject...but it's a tad contradicory. On the one hand, Nielsen has suggested---as I recall--that commercial viewing does not seem to be lower when commercials appear among mobile users. On the other hand, Nielsen also reports that only a third of TV show-related tweets are about commercials while the rest are, presumably, about program content. How Nielsen knows any of this is not terribly clear---at least to me. Perhaps someone from Nielsen would clarify and correct any misstatement or recollection on my part.

  4. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, April 19, 2016 at 9:03 p.m.

    That's exactly what happens.  Commercials are interludes to check messages, email, Facebook, etc. What surprises me is that this occurs across demographics.  

    Everyone from 10-85 years seems frantic to keep up on social, to not miss participation in a conversation that doesn't usually have anything to do with tv programming.  

    One of the weaknesses of traditional linear TV is that there are no links to share.  It's not socially adept.  I can't click a button and share a link to a scene with a comment like "Do you think Kono's new boyfriend is a crook?" 

    I'm very curious to see what develops with CBS All Access.

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