Mobile Viewing Has Implications For Family Unity

The last decade has brought a pair of revolutions in consumer viewing behavior. The first was widespread adoption of the DVR, ushering in ad-avoidance that disrupted traditional business models. The second is just getting going: the boom in viewing on mobile devices.

Anytime there is such upheaval in an industry, research understandably follows. In these instances, there's been reams of it as programmers and advertisers have looked for insight.

No question DVR usage will continue to grow and ads will continue to be avoided, but programmers have found alternate revenue streams that should help blunt the impact. Marketers may face greater challenges.



Viewing on smartphones and tablets, however, offers immense upside for both groups. Research isn’t hard to find showing the devices are driving increased consumption and engagement, which means more opportunity to reach attentive consumers.

With a recent study, the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence (CRE) attempted to go a bit deeper by analyzing motivations behind mobile viewing and tapping researchers Chadwick Martin Bailey for help. There were various methods employed, but nearly 6,000 respondents in a 15-to-64 demo were called on for opinions. 

By far, convenience was deemed the leading factor why mobile TV is viewed. (There is some indication laziness plays a role as sofa-sitters may actually prefer to fire up the smartphone already in hand than reach for the remote.)

Ad avoidance was not a “primary motivator,” researchers said. (That might make sense since the ad load is increasing in online video and unskippable).

A “more personal viewing experience” was also not a huge motivator. (Perhaps surprising because tablets can offer an intimate connection.)

This type of research can offer more questions than answers. Here's one: what impact is mobile viewing having on American home life? It might be cutting down on family interaction, it might be fueling it.

There is one huge plus smartphones and tablets might offer to bolster family mingling: no battles over the remote. Dad can watch the game on the big screen, while Mom can cuddle up close with “Grey’s Anatomy” on the iPad with headphones.

Yes, many homes have had more than one set for years, but the handheld devices offer the chance to watch a first choice in the same room. Take that divorce lawyers.

Of course, the same applies for parents and kids. There’s the opportunity for Little Johnny to watch Nickelodeon on the big screen and Mom to catch Bravo on the Galaxy S III. Or, Teenage Mike and Dad to go MTV and ESPN simultaneously.

Maybe the talking happens mostly during commercials, but wasn't that always the case? And, there is something about being in the same space.

The CRE research notes one of the drivers of mobile viewing is people “want to be with household member watching TV set, but want to watch something else.”

On the flip side, mobile devices stand to only increase lack of communication between family members as screens gobble up more attention spans. Laptops have allowed teens and kids to watch alone for some time. But smartphones and tablets are lighter and would seem to allow more opportunity to cut oneself off. There’s an element of both independence and dependence conspiring to create familial division.

It seems there might be a public service ad somewhere centered on both the opportunities and dangers mobile devices offer for family unity.

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