Multi-Screening in the US: The How and Why

March 18, 2014

MillwardBrown-US-Multi-Screening-Behavior-Mar2014For young (16-44) multi-screeners in the US, 59% of screen time is spent exclusively with a single device, while the rest is simultaneous screen use, according to results from Millward Brown’s AdReaction report. Device use overlaps with TV viewing to varying degrees, per the research, but the majority share of time spent shifting between screens rather than simultaneously using them means that the former might present the bigger multi-screening opportunity.

Looking at how digital devices overlap with TV, the report indicates that for US respondents:

  • 45% of daily smartphone time is spent simultaneously with TV;
  • 37% of daily laptop time is spent with TV; and
  • 55% of daily tablet time is spent simultaneously with TV.

Switching between devices to complete tasks has become a more widespread activity, according to a recent Facebook study, and Millward Brown’s report suggests that on a global basis, TV is the most common starting point for multi-device journeys.

Among US respondents, those that begin a task on TV most commonly gravitate to a smartphone (35%), followed by a laptop (21%) and tablet (13%). Tasks that begin on a smartphone most commonly shift to a laptop (23%) and TV (20%) rather than a tablet (9%), while those beginning on a tablet favor laptops (9%) over TVs (7%) and smartphones (7%), though not to a large extent.

Overall, the study finds that young American multi-screen consumers (not all Americans, as has been reported by other press outlets!) spend slightly more time with their mobile phones than watching TV. That’s a finding that makes sense among what Millward Brown calls “an advanced sub-group of the overall population” – but doesn’t seem to be the case among the adult population at-large.

Why Do Consumers Multi-Screen?

Much like other research has found, the study indicates that simultaneous screen use tends to be spent looking at unrelated (“stacking”) rather than related (“meshing”) content. Respondents gave varying reasons for engaging in each behavior.

The main reasons for meshing are:

  • For more information about what’s on TV (e.g. sports scores, character, bios), by 21%;
  • To discuss the content being watched with other people (e.g. via social media), by 14%;
  • To interact with what’s happening on TV (13%); and
  • To follow up on a TV ad (12%).

The main reasons for stacking, which accounts for 70% of simultaneous screen time, are:

  • To fill time during the ad breaks (43%);
  • To keep up with friends on social media, unrelated to the show (38%);
  • Not primarily watching the TV, just have it on for background noise (36%);
  • When someone else has chosen what’s on TV and it’s not really interesting (30%);
  • When the respondent is busy and has other things that need to get done (26%); and
  • When the respondent doesn’t find TV interesting enough to give it all their attention (21%).

Those responses are instructive, particularly as they relate to ads. TV ads appear to be the least influential reason for meshing – but ad avoidance is the top reason for stacking. Those results suggests that advertisers have their work cut out for them in terms of keeping viewers’ attention. Even so, a study released a couple of years ago by the IAB found at the time that multi-screen consumers were more likely to recall TV advertisers, which the researchers suggested was because those who have their second devices during commercial breaks are less likely to channel surf or skip the commercial break, leaving them aware, at some level, of the brands on the screen.

Also of note: some mixed results regarding content stacking and attention paid to TV. Respondents were least likely to say they engage in content stacking because TV isn’t interesting enough to give it all their attention, suggesting that recent research from TiVo showing that TV viewers keep their focus on the first screen was on point. But, a significant proportion of content stackers indicated that they engage in the behavior because TV is just background noise. So for some stackers, TV is likely being passively viewed – and that’s actually a leading reason why TV viewers watch ads.

About the Data: The study was conducted among 16-44-year-old multi-screen consumers (people who own or have access to both a TV and either a smartphone or tablet). The study was administrated via smartphone or tablet to more than 12,000 multi-screen users across 30 countries.

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