Second Screening And The Politics Of Attention

Understanding the synergies between large and small screens in American living rooms is going to take more than a few studies, and it is not likely to lead to just one answer. But television advertisers need to understand how attention works between the two screens and whether the presence of tablet and smartphone activity in the living room is a net add for advertisers (prompting brand lookups and opportunities for synchronized ads) or a net loss (distraction from the ad pods).

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 terms of user interactivity with the second-screen ads they saw, it was heavily dependent on the richness of the ad unit and its relevance to the show content. The rich media units that contained some reference to the show itself on the relevant show page -- polls, videos, quotes -- garnered a 1.2% CTR. The more static ad units that appeared on non-sponsored pages got only .4% CTR. The most engaging ad unit was the synched ad that launched in unison with the TV spot on the larger screen. This attracted 39% CTR. But the researchers also admit that “very few people” actually experienced that synched ad because it required that the viewer had not tuned away during the break and that the ad units on both screens were matching up.

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. 

4 comments about "Second Screening And The Politics Of Attention".
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  1. John Wettersten from Media Activation, September 26, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.

    Anecdotally, I would think engagement with the 2nd screen depends on content being watched. Sports or business news could get more statistical viewing, general interest news/politics more background, game shows more interactive game play (if built-into the functionality); though social chatter would seem most likely to get viewers attention. I'm not sure using Viacom's programming gives the full picture.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, September 26, 2013 at 3:18 p.m.

    Thanks for the point, John. And I agree in terms of different content engaging differently on the second screen. We have known for a while that reality programming and sports provoke much higher second screen involvement than does drama. I dont think we know yet whether different genres induce different behaviors during ad pods, however. But I think the question across genres is whether viewers really are drawn to dedicated second screen experience like a Zeebox or whether they most often are really not that interested in the two screens working together at all. Or whether the very light interactions of Twitter style interaction is actually in keeping with how people prefer to keep the second screen divorced from the first. I dont think we know or understand a lot of this yet. but I also agree, as I said atthe open, we are already seeing a range of different metrics and likely will not have a single answer to the question.

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, September 27, 2013 at 5:05 a.m.

    This research seems to assume that attention == visual attention (I haven't checked the original). I regularly notice, anecdotally, that a lot of the time when viewers are looking at their tablets or phones they are still listening to the TV and it has their auditory attention. So these reported visual-only attention numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt.

  4. Steve Smith from Mediapost, September 27, 2013 at 6:22 a.m.

    Excellent point, Pete. You are right. Given the reliance on gaze scanning to track the user it is referring to visual focus. I have heard some ad agencies discuss the importance of the audio track in TV spots as a way of pulling the distracted user back into the Tv as well as the importance of audio in communicating the ad imapce even when someone is nose deep in a magazine or in the kitchen nearby. And to be fair to the researcher they use the term "focus." I apply the term attention.

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