Screen Life

Screen Life: the view from the sofa

  • Winner of ‘Best Research Project/Initiative’ at the Mediatel Connected Consumer Awards 2013
  • Finalist for ‘Customer Insight’ at the Marketing Society Excellence Awards 2013
  • Silver award for ‘Research Insight’ at the MediaWeek Awards 2013
  • Winner of Grand Prix, ‘Best Research Initiative of the Year’ and ‘Best Trade Body Research’ at the Media Research Group Awards 2012
  • Winner of ‘Advertising & Media Research’ at the Market Research Society Awards 2012

We’re surrounded by screens.  From our living rooms to our workplaces, screens accompany us everywhere.  We wanted to understand the impact that smartphones, tablets and laptops have on TV viewing given that multi-screening has become commonplace. 

In Brief

There’s no doubt about it, these days we’re surrounded by screens.   Far from those hazy days of the black and white set in the corner, TV has evolved and remained a constant presence in our lives and living rooms - only now it has a host of new bed-fellows.  From smartphones and laptops to tablets, a dazzling array of technology now tempts us.  Thinkbox wanted to understand this progressive new landscape and the role that TV plays within it, particularly when it comes to the phenomenon of ‘multi-screening’.  Namely, what is it and how many people are doing it?  What are the implications for telly and what does all of this mean for advertising?

Key Points

  • TV plays a central role in our lives
  • People love to talk about TV and TV ads
  • The drive to live TV is getting stronger
  • Multi-screening draws people towards the telly
  • TV often drives multi-screening behaviour
  • Multi-screening keeps us in the room
  • Multi-screening is a great advertising opportunity
  • Multi-screening activity is linked to ad favourability
  • Multi-screening doesn’t reduce attention
  • We naturally shift our attention between TV and other devices

In Depth

There’s no doubt about it, these days we’re surrounded by screens.   Far from those hazy days of the black and white set in the corner, TV has evolved and remained a constant presence in our lives and living rooms - only now it has a host of new bed-fellows.  From smartphones and laptops to tablets, a dazzling array of technology now tempts us.  Thinkbox wanted to understand this progressive new landscape and the role that TV plays within it, particularly when it comes to the phenomenon of ‘multi-screening’.  Namely, what is it and how many people are doing it?  What are the implications for telly and what does all of this mean for advertising?

A quick definition of ‘multi-screening’

But first, we need to define ‘multi-screening’. By multi-screening, we’re referring to the use of another wireless, mobile internet device at the same time as television viewing (smartphones, laptops, tablets and handheld games consoles being used in front of the box and you’re there).  Chances are, you may well do it yourself.  You may wonder why we haven’t called it second-screening or two-screening.  The reason for this is simple: viewers often have several devices on the go at any one time.

What we did

We tasked Cog research with creating a multi-dimensional study that not only looked at what was going on in front of the TV in real people’s homes, but also rooted the findings in science to give the study an academic context.

We took a three-tier approach:

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide

1)    We top and tailed the research with a quantitative survey of 1,000 nationally representative UK adults with internet access.  The first wave enabled us to scope out the audience to understand the prevalence of multi-screening and key TV behaviours.  Uniquely, this also helped us pinpoint those active multi-screeners for inclusion in our in-home study. 

The latter wave helped us to segment the audience by their multi-screening behaviour.

2)    Next, and most importantly, we went into 20 homes (consisting of over 60 individual viewers) and captured all of their TV viewing over a fortnight using innovative CCTV-style technology.  (And yes, we saw all of the intricacies of family life from arguing to smooching!)

We also employed a new facial recognition technique called ‘Quividi’, which captured exactly who was in the room, what they were doing and where their attention was focused – i.e. on the TV or on another task altogether.

3)    We also incorporated an award –winning MMS technique called ‘digi ethno’, where 50 households (most within the CCTV sample) were encouraged to elaborate on their use of social networks, messenger, web and texts.  This enabled us to better understand the key drivers of multi-screening behaviour and TV’s role within it.

What did we find out?

The study gave us a fascinating snapshot of what goes on in the homes of real British TV viewers.  Over a thousand hours of footage was collected and this is perhaps the most powerful and entertaining part of the research (do invite us in and we’ll show you), but there were many overarching themes.

1)    TV plays a central role in our lives

Firstly, in spite of the fact that the CCTV homes were far more evolved technologically than the vast majority of the UK population, TV very much played a central role in their lives.  For most households, it was on for much of the time and provided the main source of entertainment but also a crucial tool for relaxation, social bonding and discourse, information and education.

2)    People love to talk about telly and TV ads

This central role was reflected in our conversation – not just for programmes, but for ads too.  TV is repeatedly shown to be one of our main topics of conversation, and the families within this research were no different.  We witnessed all sorts of people talking about and reacting to TV ads in a whole host of ways.  So whilst it is true that TV ads will never be key to our lives in the same way as programmes, they continue to ignite conversation and capture the imagination and for this reason, will always be integral part of the TV experience.

3)    The drive to live is getting stronger

Interestingly, as multi-screening behaviour becomes increasingly more prevalent, the triggers to live viewing become more compelling.

We’ve previously identified the phenomenon of the ‘virtual sofa’ where interaction about TV not only happens within our immediate social spheres, but increasingly, beyond our normal social and geographical realms.  It’s a fabulous dynamic for broadcast telly and was very much prevalent in this research.

Whilst great for the viewer, the potential for the ‘spoiler effect’ is obvious and for many, almost impossible to avoid.  Many of our respondents actively tried to avoid TV related updates on social networking sites or went out of their way to watch their favourite programmes ‘in the moment’ so they could participate in the social buzz surrounding them.

Likewise, the social buzz around TV content can also work the other way and prompt people to seek out programmes they may have previously overlooked based on the hype and recommendation of others.

Both of these phenomena are associated with the principle of loss avoidance in behavioural economics – we know others are enjoying something and we don’t want to miss out.

4)    Multi-screening draws people towards the telly

Connected to the above is the enhanced sense of enjoyment that multi-screeners gain from the telly.  The opportunity for further engagement is greater than ever; from following your fave celebs, to chatting online and even participating in the show (think Million Pound Drop), there were countless examples of our respondents using additional screens to get closer to TV. 

5)    TV often drives multi-screening behaviour

Needless to say, TV content drives a huge amount of multi-screening activity.  From texting to tweeting, gaming to gossiping, activity tended to be driven by three things: researching content, sharing with online friends and participating with TV content and ads.

The types of activity tended to be limited by the viewer’s technological sophistication but we witnessed all kinds of activities taking place.  Unsurprisingly, most were dominated by social networking.  There were, however, plenty of examples of TV driving other behaviour such as web searches, downloading and playing along.

The following chart shows the prevalence of chatting about TV via an additional screen

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide 2

6)    Multi-screening keeps us in the room

A benefit we didn’t predict at the start of this research was the ability of additional screens to hold viewers in the room.  Whereas those without a second screen may have felt the need to leave the room or change channels when something less appealing popped onto the box, our multi –screeners just switched their focus to another task.  Whilst it’s true that they weren’t glued to the screen, they were nonetheless still in front of it.

This had several benefits beyond pure exposure. Firstly, the viewer feels liberated by the choice that the second screen offers; they can choose to dip into TV content if something grabs their attention, but they can also focus on another task if they so wish and thus feel like their time in front of the TV is ‘time well spent’. (And of course, family members gain brownie points for staying in the same room as their loved ones.)

The numbers supported this. Not only were viewers more likely to stay in front of the TV for longer (64% of multi-screeners viewed for over 15 minutes per time compared to 47% of non multi-screeners) but they were also more likely to stay for the ad break, as shown by the chart below.

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide 3

7)    Multi-screening is a great advertising opportunity

Most of our respondents were fluent in the use of both the internet and apps.   However, there was surprise at the lack of apps relating to ads versus the amount available for programmes.  There was a real interest in an app, for example, that would allow users to go straight from a product in an ad that interests them to their online shopping baskets for purchase, or take them directly to a relevant website.

There was also a real sense of wanting – and in some cases expecting – a level of reward for their efforts in interacting.  In many cases, this was as simple as the above, i.e. the reward is the time and leg-work saved in being taken straight from an ad to the point of purchase.  For others, discounts games and freebies would prove the most tempting.

Either way, what came across was the opportunity advertisers have to work with the broadcasters in utilising and facilitating the established relationship they have with, and understanding that they have of, their viewers.

8)    We were also able to segment the audience by their behaviour 

Given that there is an advertising opportunity, it felt right that we should try and understand more about it – not least in terms of who we could target and plan our multi-screen activity around.

Cog identified six multi-screener segments based on behaviour and attitudes. These ranged from tech savvy early adopters, heavy social media users to occasional, task based activists. But who are the people most likely to multi-screen?

Innovators tend to be aged 16-34 and rather like Moss from the IT crowd – only rather less awkward. They have a slight skew towards being male and are the group that are most likely to own a smartphone and/or a tablet.  They are very tech savvy, keen bloggers and hungry for the latest thing.  They are however, a segment that is small in size.

Intimates are more likely to be female. They are tech-savvy, switched on and highly connected, rather like Blair from Gossip Girl.  They use the 2nd screen to connect to people even outside their social circle, and just like to chat – particularly around reality and game shows.  They are more likely to use a smartphone and laptop but are less likely to have purchased a tablet as yet.

The following diagram highlights the different behavioural groups and their level of multi-screening activity versus their size.

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide 4

If you’d like to know more about the segments, then please do get in touch.

9)    Heavy multi-screening activity is linked to ad favourability

Interestingly, heavy multi-screening was directly linked with ad favourability.  Heavy multi-screeners were significantly more likely to be positive about ads, to believe that they ‘take ads in’ and nearly three times as likely to think they see more ads that single screeners.  This is great news for the industry and highlights that the time is ripe for experimentation.

10)  Multi-screening doesn’t reduce attention

Multi-screening has obvious implications for attention; we only have one pair of eyes.

Cog therefore went back to the footage (over 1,200 hours) and split it out into the three main behaviour types to begin to unpick the relationship between multi-screening and attention.  Firstly, there was ‘general TV viewing’.  This encompassed watching TV with no other accompanying activity other than eating or drinking, which are very common.  Next, there was multi-screening, which we have previously defined, and finally there were other forms of multi-tasking, such as reading and chatting.

Interestingly, when one person was viewing alone, the vast majority of their time consisted of either general TV watching or multi-screening.  When the programmes were running, the bias was towards general TV viewing over multi-screening, but unsurprisingly, when the ads came on the overall level of viewing dropped slightly and the bias shifted towards multi-screening.  This is shown in the diagram below:

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide 5

As you can imagine, the picture became more complicated when there were two or more viewers in the room (as the potential combinations of activity multiply), but the overall pattern remained the same.

11)  Getting to grips with attention and multi-screening.  We’re more like meerkats that we thought…

We mentioned earlier that we utilised a technique called Quividi – in fact this tool added a whole new dimension to the research.

In a nutshell, a Quividi camera was placed in each home.  This camera was able to automatically monitor what the viewers were watching - second-by-second, who the viewers were and whether their eyes were on the screen or not.  This gave precious real-time data relating to the levels of visual attention for both programme and ad viewing and how this panned out depending on the number of viewers within the room.

Ultimately, it helped us determine that multi-screeners are like meerkats.  Although we rarely stay fixated on one thing for any length of time even when we’re not multi-screening, we very much bob in and out of content when we are. We flick our attention to whatever is most compelling at any given moment.

In fact, further analysis showed that multi-screening barely had an effect on attention. Using general TV viewing as a benchmark for eyes-on-screen, multi-screening hardly had any impact at all. In fact, multi-tasking was a far bigger distraction during the break.  People did pick up additional screens during the ad breaks but they continued to face the telly.  TV was still the focal point of the room.

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide 6

12)  Are we barking up the wrong tree?  Does attention even matter?

We know that view of advertising working solely through rational persuasion that leads to informed decision-making is wrong.  We also know that as humans, we constantly tune into, or zone out of the world around us.  It’s akin to the cocktail party effect – we can easily ignore the scores of people chatting around us in order to focus on our own conversation.  However, we can also hear our name casually mentioned from the other side of the room. Is the same true of the second screen or is the process wholly more absorbing?

Like all good scientists, Cog went into the lab to find out and conducted a 21st century version of the famous Saatchi’s ‘ironing board test’.  Instead of ironing with the radio on in the background (and later being tested on their recall of what was on the radio), our respondents we sat in a ‘waiting room’ with the TV on in the background and the opportunity to multi-screen on a laptop.  The aim was to determine what, if anything, they could recall from the ads that were on the background TV in terms of brand and creative recognition.

The respondents were split into groups of multi and single screeners for comparison and were told that the research was about social networking to throw them off the scent.

The results were surprising.  There was no significant difference between the two groups – ad recognition was virtually identical for both single and multi-screeners. Exactly the same pattern emerged for creative recall.

Screen Life The view from the sofa Slide 7

It became clear that we rarely focus wholly on the second screen.  Instead we pay attention to different devices but our mind’s eye – and ear – is constantly open to TV ads.  This highlights the human aptitude for ‘accidental learning’.  Things regularly sink into our brains without us consciously processing them or paying them direct regard.  This is why TV ads still have an impact even when we appear to be in a reduced state of attention.  (This is one of the benefits of being an audio-visual medium – you don’t have to pay close visual attention in order to know what is going on.)  In fact, our memory still stores them and brings them into play automatically when we make decisions.

13)  Pulling it all together

So, to summarise, although multi-screening is still a minority activity, its influence is far reaching – and of course, it is a behaviour that will continue to grow. 

Multi-screening has also enhanced the relationship we have with broadcast TV.  Not only does it allow us to get closer and respond to the TV we love, but it also drives us to watch stuff we may have previously missed, and amazingly, it can keep us in front of the box when we otherwise might have gone elsewhere.  It also, reassuringly for advertisers, has no adverse effect on brand recall or recognition

And whilst the audience is small, the opportunity for advertisers to experiment is huge and the potential rewards even bigger.


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