T/V Multitaskers: Positive Or Negative For Advertisers?

As a planner and buyer of media, I was often concerned about the loss of potential television advertising impressions to viewer multitasking. After all, by the late 1990s the traditional networks (broadcast and cable) had so over-cluttered the programming environment with ads, and longer-length pods of ads, that it was clear that viewers were actually trained to avoid them. Furthermore buyers weren’t able to buy against commercial rating impressions, but only program ratings. I still regret not having done more to challenge the buying model and constantly increasing commercial loads when television was the only game in town.

When the Internet arrived with its unbridled offering of content to search and surf, the chance that T/V (Television/Video) consumers would stop and engage with an advertiser’s message at scale was further compromised, and became further based on hope. What other buying model besides gambling and day trading rests so much on hope?

A 2014 IAB Research Analysis of Prosper Insight Data for Media Multitaskers provides some intriguing information about an important segment of today’s media consumer base.

--      Media multitaskers are those who regularly go online while watching TV.

--      Compositions are higher than general population for 18- to 34-year-olds, females, African-Americans, renters and singles.

--     Media multitaskers are much more likely than the general population to surf the internet, use social media, check email, play video games, view video/TV online and listen to online radio. They are heavy digital media users.

--      Media multitaskers report they are above-average regular watchers of online video ads (65%) and mobile video ads (50%).

--      51% of young (18-34) adults regularly go online while watching TV, a 119 index to all adults.

--      90% of young (18-34) adults occasionally or regularly go online while watching TV, a 110 index to all adults.

--       Media multitaskers report that they are just as likely to watch broadcast and cable TV commercials as the general population, while reporting being influenced by them at the same or greater level.

·--      When asked how often they watch an ad that a website plays before video content, 59% of media multitaskers and 51% of the general adult population reported that they watch these pre-rolls regularly or occasionally.

Because digital T/V (unlike analog) brings measurability to consumer media actions and behaviors, advertisers no longer need to overcompensate by throwing enormous numbers of ads up against the consumer wall, hoping something sticks. T/V advertisers are now drawn to and pay premiums for pre-rolls because the viewer clicks to start the ad, with measured completion rates sometimes upwards of 70%. There are also many tech and research companies now measuring time spent with video ads as a dimension of ad effectiveness (ad starts/ad completions/% completed, etc.).

So is Multitasking good or bad for video advertising?

·       Plus: The overall amount of consumer time spent on ad-supported media increases with multitasking, and represents a higher proportion of online video ad viewers. Minus: Second screen media use doesn’t necessarily include ad viewing, and doesn’t explain the role or motivation of continued ad avoidance.

·       Plus: Because the added media usage for video is digital, there are stronger engagement metrics available for both display and video formats. Ads can be more targeted and measured, creating efficiencies. Minus: It seems that advertisers now need to buy incrementally more media, to increase the chance that a potential ad impression is seen in a more fragmented distribution system, where half the users are multitasking.

·       Plus: Multitasking viewers are no longer being “held hostage” to advertising, because they’re spending time with the content they most want. Minus: Scattered viewer attention reduces the chance of a placed video ad being seen.

·       Plus: Because 18- to 34-year-olds are leading the way in media multitasking, they are still a minority (31%) of total adults, and can become the laboratory for learning and developing new approaches to ad-supported video. Minus: The time frame for movement from younger, early media adopters to mainstream is shorter and shorter in the digital age.

·       Plus: Based on the research above, media multitaskers report that they are seeing ads and are influenced by them. Minus: Self-reported behavior is not necessarily real behavior -- how does one really measure how one is being influenced? More behavior-based measurement is needed to truly understand what is gained and lost from multitasking.

I hope to see industry leaders pursue more behavioral, multiplatform research on the more granular effects of media multitasking, so advertisers can better understand how to approach engagement with these elusive media lovers and their fast-shifting attention spans.

2 comments about "T/V Multitaskers: Positive Or Negative For Advertisers?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 18, 2014 at 4:32 p.m.

    John, you must be aware that even though 50% or 60% of the people responding in surveys claim that they "often" or " frequently" multitask while watching TV this does not relate to the extent of average minute behavior. A number of years ago, Nielsen did a study in which roughly three out of five respondents said that they use their computers while watching TV, however when the average incidence of such dual activity was checked----presumably by meter measurements-----only 2-3% of all TV usage time was found to take place simultaneously with PC usage. That figure has probably risen to 4-5% by now, but anyway you slice it the impact of multitasking at any given point in time----namely when an ad appears-----is not very great. As for attentiveness, I fail to see how a viewer can actually be paying attention to a TV screen at exactly the same time as he/she visually attends a computer screen. So maybe we are not really talking about simultaneous usage at all. Perhaps we should call it recent other media usage. Say our typical multitasker goes online several hours after or before seeing something on TV, or maybe there is a still longer gap between the two experiences ---on average. Doesn't that diminish the supposed synergies a bit?

  2. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, September 18, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.

    Amen. There is a clear question about message efficacy in a multi-tasking TV environment and how we best value impressions across different media types and platforms. Importantly, we are still using GRP and reach levels for recency or effective frequency theories that are based upon the GRP levels for TV in the 90s before media multitasking. I posit that the 50 GRP minimum recommended by IPSOS or the 75 recommended by Milward Brown in their oft-cited studies are no longer sufficient to build awareness today and that we need to adjust our weight levels of each medium based upon the target predilection for multitasking and what we can learn about awareness alignment to GRPs and reach in this new era. If we are using old measures for the new media experience we are guilty of old-think.

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