Multitasking Remains Strong Among Prime-Time Viewers

Multitasking is still a big deal for TV watchers -- and it doesn’t matter if viewers are watching live, time-shifted programming or streaming through the TV set.

For each hour of prime time watched, 70% of viewing comes with “other activities” -- 69% for live TV viewing, 70% for time-shifted DVR viewing, and 71% for streaming through a TV set. The new study comes from GfK, the business and consumer research company.

The research company says multitasking has remained stable for more a little more than a decade -- 75% of respondents had “other activities” while watching TV in 2004; 77% this year.

Men are more likely to be multitaskers than women -- at 74% to 64%. Young TV viewers 18 to 34 multitask more in prime time -- at 73% -- than older viewers. Each of those groups -- 35 to 49 and 50 to 64 years old each -- registered a 66% mark.

The most common multitasking activity across the three hours of prime-time TV: Talking with others -- whether in person or on a phone -- which averages of 24% of viewers. Internet use is 29%. Eating and snacking is also big, 30% -- but only in the first hour of prime time. That activity drops to 12% in the third hour of prime time.

The study says those who have “unplanned” TV viewing tend to multitask more (75%) than those who plan (64%). GfK says advertisers need to keep experimenting in ways to reach their consumers on more than one screen.

The survey, from April 23 through May 5, 2015, came from GfK’s research panel representing about 97% of U.S. households -- 1,010 persons 13-64, randomly selected from the overall pool of active panel members. 

Only one respondent per household was allowed. The cooperation rate among the assigned sample was 43%, with the average time to complete the survey of 25 minutes.



3 comments about "Multitasking Remains Strong Among Prime-Time Viewers ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 17, 2015 at 3:47 p.m.

    Once again, this kind of research---not because of the research company---will be misinterpreted. If 70%of the viewers engage in "other activities" during an hour of primetime viewing---and let's accept that figure as accurate for the purpose of this commentary----what percentage of the time the one-hour show is on the viewer's screen involves "other activities"?Is it 70%? Most unlikely.

    More likely is that some people chat with others for a few minutes, or tweet, or answer the phone or rush out to grab a snack, or have sex, or turn to their PCs for a few minutes, etc. and some engage in more than one of these activities---especially if the TV show is rather boring. But not for 42 of its 60 minutes. OK, maybe there is more of this during commercials---but commercials, counting local ads, take up about 12-13 minutes on most network shows, so what happens the rest of the time? Do we really think that people are so disinterested in the TV fare they "watch" that they are constantly doing other things, rather than being attentive? Some---yes; but most of them----unlikely.

    As for evidence on this point, how is it that approximately 55% of TV viewers report that they were "fully attentive"the last time they watched a particular TV show, with high scoring shows hitting the 75-85% mark, while Nielsen tells us, in its Brand Effect Studies that 40-45% of the audience can recall an average commercial? Sure, you can be both engaged in other activities while still watching, but the evidence suggests, very strongly,  that much of the time---not some of the time----viewers are paying attention, especially to program content.

  2. John Driscoll from School Family Media, September 18, 2015 at 11:50 a.m.

    I thought it was fairly clear that 70% or so of folks did some kind of multi-tasking while watching TV, not that they engaged in it for 70% of the time. Some of the behavior such as talking and snacking isn't new.  Texting and surfing on your tablet while watching TV however is new and makes it easier to engage in something else besides the commercial. 

    The even larger challenge for broadcast networks and marketers is that the younger generation is much more aggressive about using the DVR to record shows and still watching the same night even so they can fast forward through commercials and spend 1/2 an hour watching the Bachelor instead of a full hour for example.  Some older viewers do this, but it's not quite as pervasive as many years of viewing habits are more ingrained.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 18, 2015 at 1:14 p.m.

    My comments were not about the way the study's findings were described, John, but how many people misinterpret such reports to suit their own agendas.

    Regarding the younger generation skipping commercials that's nothing new, only now they have more ways to do it. In terms of sheer volume, however, the fact  is that most viewing by "millennials" still takes place without "zapping" commercials", though that doesn't mean that the ads are always being watched attentively.

    As for what marketers and TV networks can do about this, aside from cutting the number of ads per hour in half, which would require the ad sellers to double the price of the commercials just to stay even, revenue-wise, that's a difficult question. I think that the answer is ---there is no practical answer. As a result, advertisers must  accept the fact that if they are running a campaign, which "hits" the average consumer 10 times in a three-month period, that some groups---the 18-34s, as an example--- may "watch" only 5 times. For most campaigns, that figure---5, not 10--may still be enough to register the brand's message effectively.

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