So TV won the battle for debate viewing.
What’s noteworthy though about Pew’s just-released analysis of how Americans viewed the first presidential debate earlier this month was that 11% of viewers watched and followed coverage of the debate on more than one screen.
Pew found that 85% of Americans who watched the debate live watched on TV only, while 3% watched on a computer or phone only, and 11% used two screens. In most cases, that latter figure means they followed coverage of the debate online or on a mobile phone while watching on TV.
On the one hand, the 3% figure might seem small. But I contend that the digital video viewing number as well as the dual-screen number are both promising figures for digital venues. These figures line up squarely with other reports that indicate digital habits. In Nielsen’s most recent cross-platform report from the first quarter of 2012 , the research firm found that traditional TV viewers spent an average of 155 hours per month watching content, while online video viewers averaged 5 hours and 24 minutes per month. That means online video comprises about 3% to 4% of the time spent watching TV.
Online video is still a small fraction of TV viewing, but yet it’s growing year over year.
So while TV may have dominated debate viewing, it’s supposed to right now. But other mediums are making steady progress, especially when considering the habits of younger viewers. “Overall, 32% of those younger than 40 say they followed the debate live online, including 22% who followed it both on television and online, and 10% who followed exclusively on a computer or mobile device,” Pew said.
The Pew figures from the debate are exactly what they should be - a positive sign that online video viewing, though small, is significant enough to register on surveys, and that digital engagement — based on the 11% dual-screen figures - is a very real phenomenon. The Pew post-debate survey was conducted October 4-7 among 1,006 adults.