Do You Really Believe In The Second Screen?

When you read surveys conducted by marketers, researchers and data companies about online viewing behavior, I immediately play along, figuring how I’d answer the same questions.

I particularly quiz myself are about second screen integrations—the triangled relationship between the connected device in my hands, the TV set and me.

Nielsen has pulled out some statistics that purport social media use increases viewers’ awareness of television shows and events and the second screen “enhances their viewing experience.”

I admit upfront I don’t think the second screen is much of a phenomenon. The tablet or smartphone I use while I watch TV is just a 21st Century newspaper or magazine. I often don’t pay much attention to what’s on TV though if it’s necessary, I can be involved in three or four simultaneous story lines on TV, and some stuff on the Internet pretty easily.



I think that, even though it’s probably not true. Researchers say we overestimate our ability to multi-task, because we underestimate how easily we delude ourselves.

Over two-thirds of tablet users and half of smartphone users told Nielsen that surfing the Internet was the thing they did the most while watching TV.

But that says nothing about enhancing the TV experience because these users are not reporting that they are surfing the Web in relation to the show. They are, to use the print analogy, again, just thumbing through pages of a magazine.

The next biggest bunch are shopping (44% of the tablet users), again nothing related to the TV screen. Thumbing through the catalog.

It is true that among tablet users 41% are  looking up info about an actor/plot/athlete in the show/sporting contest they’re watching. But in most categories that have to do with interacting with TV, that second screen is nice, but unnecessary.

That’s me. I don’t think I watch TV at all anymore without also being online with one device or the other. But except for election night, I don’t use social sites to give or get moment-by-moment opinions. (I also cruised social media for the Super Bowl, but purely because I thought it was professional duty.)    

These stats, in my mind, seem to be calculated in reverse. The second screen is the TV; I suspect a sizable percentage of people using a device while watching TV are really involved with the device,  mostly, and the TV set happens to be on. It creates an ambience. (In the days before there was the Internet, I remember a sitcom producer remarking that millions of people “watching” his sitcom were really thinking about how the draperies behind the TV set needed to be cleaned.)

Proponents might say that never before have TV viewers been able to be part of a social network’s back-and-forth discussion about a show—roundly, about 20% of viewers with smartphones or tablet do that.  Granted that’s a great proof of engagement, and possibly fun. But from an advertiser’s perspective, I wonder what all of that involvement does to their message. I would think a lot of writing and reading goes on during the commercial breaks.

Overall, 25% say they are aware of more TV shows through social media, but only 8% say they sample more shows because of it, the same percentage as a year ago; 11% say they watch more live TV because social media kind of crowd-pushes them there, up from 8% a year ago

Again, I’m underwhelmed.

The tablet and smartphone has changed how we consume content because there are now more places to get it. But by and large, viewers are passive, even the ones with devices. They’re viewers, even now, and with some blips, here and there,  they’re just not that into television.

3 comments about "Do You Really Believe In The Second Screen? ".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 4, 2014 at 2:44 p.m.

    Absolutely, PJ. The proponents of second screen theory seem to believe that all consumers want to do is immerse themselves in the glory of whatever is on the first screen and use the second screen to do so. That's pure, unadulterated bunkum. I wrote a blog post years ago observing that "Consumers don't want to be your friend". That applies here as well. And I'd hedge your post even further because what seems to me to be accurate is that 41% have at least once at some point in time in the past x months looked up info... It's not their primary purpose with the second screen.

  2. Michael Greeson from TDG, August 4, 2014 at 4:33 p.m.

    TDG came to these conclusions nearly 20 months ago, with primary research from Q1 2013. Even in its early days, the only second-screen (tablet, smart phone, or laptop/notebook) activity of any relevance to what 'social TV' involved short tweets to friends watching the same programming. As such, Joel Espelien argued in Q2 2013 that 'social TV' for non-sports (and non-live reality programming where voting played a role) was instant communication, which even while watching TV was more likely to be about non-TV activities than what's on the tube.

    Again, sports and live voting-based programming are important exceptions to the lack of TV-relevant second-screen interactivity. Such programming enjoys an expansion of the experience when second screens are incorporated, a benefit other programming does not enjoy.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 5, 2014 at 5 p.m.

    Michael - having worked some of the interactive TV experiences in the past 20 years, I think it's an overstatement to suggest that interaction means "Such programming enjoys an expansion of the experience when second screens are incorporated, a benefit other programming does not enjoy"... The truth is that for a dedicated minority of viewers it gives this experience. But for the vast majority, the interaction remains minimal. Is that minority important? I suppose it can be with the right interaction and the right situation.

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