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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Measuring the effects of multiple screen usage

It is common knowledge that as a society, we are multi-tasking more than ever. OTX think we fit 31 hours worth of tasks into a single day, and our lack of down-time is being blamed for our increased sleeplessness.

Seeing some of the Childwise Monitor report data emphasised some of the difficulties that this presents to the TV industry. According to the report, children aged 5-16 spend an average of five and a half hours in front of a screen every day – whether it is a TV, a games console or a computer. But what is most striking is that around a third of children (I think- I didn’t make notes) say that they go on the Internet while they watch TV.

New research from Thinkbox is even more striking. Initial results indicate that as many as two thirds of adults use TV and the Internet simultaneously.

The battle for share of attention is becoming increasingly competitive, and TV is at a disadvantage. TV is inherently a sit-back, passive media. The Internet is lean-forward and active. Some argue that this is the reason why total TV viewing has been going up – people are increasingly utilising it as background noise while they surf the Internet.

So, how does TV ensure that it remains the focal point for viewers? Ideally, it would be through compelling storylines. But, judging by the content of contemporary advertising, it is going to be jumpy edits, fast cuts, bright colours and loud noise. And paradoxically, the more programmes or adverts that utilise these techniques, the less they stand out. Nowadays, silence standing out.

Before this situation can be addressed, the impact needs to be quantified. This could be done accurately – albeit expensively – through a combination of eye-tracking for television, and return path data for online.

Discovering the change in proportion of eyesight-to-screen when a pc is present, and the differences in time spent per page when a TV is on would allow us to measure the relative change in attention. This can be underlined by a survey measuring recall of messages in both media. Some very powerful insights could result from this type of research – what grabs the most attention, how people flip back and forth, and so on.

It is not entirely unreasonable to expect some positive results for TV companies in the research. Counter-intuitively, spending time on the Internet may in fact enhance attention to some programme. According to the Childwise study, two of the most popular online activities were instance messaging and social networking. Could they be talking about the TV programming, and reinforcing the messages communicated to them?

The popularity of liveblogging indicates that this isn’t as far-fetched as one might originally think.



3 Responses

  1. “as many as two thirds of adults use TV and the Internet simultaneously”

    very interested to find out if there is any research into this area – I suspect that ‘variable attention syndrome’ (VAS) is becoming much more common, whether BOTH online and TV are becoming increasingly intermittently consumed (which I beleive is the model in the US)

    still, I have my doubts if people would find TV so interesting that they would go online simultaneously to share their interest – but then again, youngsters nowadays …

    I also wonder if the figures for online ‘activity’ while TV is on are overstated – how is it measured?

    fascinating stuff, time for a re-run of prof Preston’s (?) research, the Oxford chap who pioneered ‘watching them watching’, camera-within-VCR-at-home, some real-time, sensitive research called for


  2. Hi Kevin, thanks for stopping by

    I admit I am being a bit over-optimistic regarding people’s attention actually increasing. But we have research showing that TV is one of the most talked about things (second only to friends and family). If people are online at the time, they may well talk about what they are watching because it is top of mind.

    I spend quite a lot of time online, and I do notice that for certain “event” programmes – football, reality, awards – people do offer a running commentary on blogs and message boards. So there is certainly potential.

    Regarding the two thirds figure, I’ve only seen preliminary toplines and so am not yet fully versed in the intricacies of exactly what the data is saying. Judging by the figure, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were an “ever” rather than a “regularly” but I’m only speculating.

    Finally, thanks for the heads up on the watching them watching research!


  3. correction, not prof Preston, but:
    Collett, Peter and Roger Lamb (1986), “Watching People Watch Television,” Report on the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Oxford, UK : University of Oxford Press.


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