Report: How People Really Use Tablets While Watching TV

The whole industry is building iPad apps that integrate with television. But Nielsen’s latest report gets hard numbers on whether or not this trend actually makes sense.

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.

Read more here.

[Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design]

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  • blynn

    who says tablet/phone are the 2nd screen? perhaps they are primary and tv is the 2nd.

  • Richard Kastelein

    Most people today currently use the tablet and smartphone to escape commercials if anything. Which in itself is hugely disruptive as it directly affects the lifeblood of commercial TV itself - brand ad spend for 30 second spots. Most people indeed are probably doing things that have little to do with TV, however, that's hard to track as they may be tweeting about a show, emailing someone about a movie, or liking a TV character on Facebook.

    The TV production world meets twice a year in Cannes at MIPCOM and MIPTV... and their mantra is Content is King.
    However, Context is the Crown.Context is key. How many times does the EPG fail to give you the drill down info you want on a show that you may or may not want to invest time in and you go to IMDB or Wikipedia to find out whether it's a waste of time or not? Lots of us do that. Now think of a second screen experience that continues to float context to you in the form of metadata that is related to the show. See the zeetags on for an example. And the reason that most people are not second screening in relation to the show is that most shows are not being written to do that will calls to action etc.When they do that, Such as the did in Holland recently to enormous success, it can be explosive in terms of audience engagement.

  • mhmediaonline

    I'm really surprised at the low  figure for writing blurbs about the program being watched! If something moves me enough I'll take to Twitter to become a critic.