About half of all smartphone and tablet owners use these devices while watching TV. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because about half of all smartphone and tablet owners probably use these devices during every single activity of their lives.
But when someone uses their iPhone during Game of Thrones, are they actually reading about the show, or are they just buying shoes? Should that second screen be related to the television or not? This has been a bit of an unanswered question, but that hasn’t stopped many apps—like Xbox Smartglass—from being built to extend the TV into one’s lap.
Nielsen’s latest report gathered some hard numbers on the trend. First, they found that a majority of people (~70%) report reading about other things when they watch television. This can be researching something specific like how to build birdhouses, or just surfing the web aimlessly. So, for the most part, it seems like we’re using our second screens to suck in a whole other pipe of unrelated information.
But that doesn’t mean no one is multitasking in the name of a deeper television experience: About 50% of tablet users (and 35% of smartphone users) will actually look up info related to the show they’re watching, and about 20% of tablet users (and 13% of smartphone users) will read social networks for updates about the show they’re watching.
Nielsen told me that these TV integration numbers are probably higher than was previously assumed. I’m curious how research would look in terms of timeshare—how many minutes a week was someone browsing an iPad unrelated to TV, and how many minutes were they browsing an iPad with content related to the TV. Because I watch the Oscars, in part, just to follow what my friends are razzing on Twitter. But I keep my phone in my pocket during most shows I watch that require attention to gather the nuance like Mad Men.
In terms of building tablet experiences around the television, I do think the research can teach us something: Namely, most people are using second screens in a distracting way. Even if someone does hop on IMDb during Breaking Bad, that doesn’t doesn’t mean they want a whole Breaking Bad app. Second screens need to feed someone’s curiosity casually, not greedily demand their spare attention.
Then again, maybe Nielsen’s numbers would look a bit different if iPads and televisions integrated more richly and seamlessly than they do today—if, rather than supplying mere factoids, touch screens could alter and augment the linear movie/TV experience.
[Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design]