It was this latter finding in the Real Living study, conducted with research agency, Sparkler, that came as the biggest surprise to Tim Elkington, chief strategy officer at IAB UK.
"The fact that consumers are happily checking their email accounts throughout the evening on a mobile wasn't the biggest surprise because, if we're honest, we all do it," he says. "What took me back is that you naturally assume that people check their phone while the adverts are on or there's nothing happening in their show. Actually, the truth is people are checking for email regardless of what's going on the screen."
This, Elkington suggests, paints a very different picture for email marketers compared to what might have previously been assumed. To begin with, he insists, marketers are going to have to rethink the notion of "second screening" because it is more accurate to say "joint screening." This screen in the hand is not a passive device, he insists, but can instead be the start of a shopping journey that the consumer had no idea they were likely to take, until they chanced on an interesting email.
"We used to think that the mobile on the sofa was a second screen but our research is definitely showing that it has equal prominence and takes over when someone is giving it their attention," he says. "Another interesting finding for us was that not only are so many people checking their emails, even outside of advertising breaks, but something like one in four reveal they go to the next stage and go shopping on their mobile while they're watching television. That really marks the end of the days when marketers probably felt that the evening wasn't the right time to reach people on their mobile, because it's so personal, and even if they did, it would be for researching a purchase made on a laptop. Our research is showing the public are happy to check email and act on them by going shopping while the television plays in the background."
Elkington puts this down to retailers having far more responsive mobile Web site, which make it so much easier to shop than just a couple of years ago. "Just think, it was only a year or two ago you were having to pinch and pull content to get it viewable and there generally wasn't an easy way to get around a mobile site," he says. "Now the better retailers make it easy to look around and pick items and checking out need only require a PayPal password. The experience has been improved so much that it's becoming second nature to act on a retailer's email and go shopping on a mobile device in the evening."
The advice here is not to assume that a relationship with a customer means they will be happy to receive a message from a brand and act on it. Watching television means attention is divided between the small and large screen, so any brand that wants attention had better make it clear what they want and what's in it for the television viewer, Elkington stresses.
"Obviously having a relationship where a customer has chosen to receive email updates is a very good starting point because you're a brand they know and want to hear from," he says. "That doesn't mean that you'll get an automatic response though. Our advice is you need to have a point. You need to make it very clear what they can get from engaging with a message and what's in it for them. We've not done the research to back up the assumption but it's probably true that a short, sharp-focused message is a lot easier to respond to than asking someone to do a lot of reading and research up front."
So it turns out that as we all sit there in front of the television checking our smartphones, we are not alone. The majority of people on their living room sofas are doing exactly the same thing and that represents a massive new opportunity for email marketers to not only engage with customer but also, as Elkington puts it, "push on an open door" to get them shopping at a time when traditionally it may have been assumed getting in touch would have been intrusive and detracted from their favorite television show.