Smartphones and tablets have become living room companions for TV viewers to an astonishing level in the U.S. Nielsen reports that in its multinational survey of device owners, 88% of people in the U.S. with tablets say they have used their device while watching TV at least once in the last month. When it comes to smartphone second screening, the level of penetration is just as high -- 86%.
Impressive as the raw reach of tandem viewing may be, it is the frequency that is most impressive. For the U.S. audience with tablets, almost a quarter (24%) report using tablets while viewing TV several times a week, and even more (26%) say they do so several times a day. In fact, 69% of tablet owners in all are watching two different screens at once on a regular basis each week.
The pattern for the even larger audience of U.S. smartphone owners is very similar. Nielsen finds that 27% are using their handheld device in tandem with TV watching several times a day, and another 23% are doing so on several occasions each week. Another 14% are second screening on the smaller device at least once a day.
On an international basis, the UK bears the closest resemblance to U.S. TV audiences, with 80% of tablet owners watching two screens and 78% of smartphone users. Both Italy and Germany show the lowest incidence of two-screen activity, with almost a third of these device owners saying they never use them when the TV is on.
According to Nielsen, the most popular activity being pursued on these second screens is the email check, which can occur during the programming or during a commercial break.
There is some indication that viewers also use their devices to check on content or products they see on the primary screen. Nevertheless, the second screen poses to TV companies and advertisers a classic “opportunity-challenge.” That parallel screen can be a considerable distraction from network programming. Preliminary research apart from this Nielsen study has suggested different behaviors that viewers have been measured pursuing.
In some cases we can see that mobile use spikes during commercial breaks, for instance. That activity might be seen as a threat to TV advertising because it may mean that users are tuning out during the all-important commercial breaks. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggests that advertisers can enjoy considerable mobile traffic during those breaks if the advertiser succeeded in capturing the viewer’s attention with a real call to action.
It used to be that advertisers just needed to keep the viewer from leaving the room for a snack or from clicking the remote. Now they have to figure out an ad experience that works somehow between both screens.