Are People Watching TV Ads or Looking at Their Mobile Devices?

SymphonyAdvancedMedia-Concurrent-Use-Mobile-Devices-and-TV-Apr2013There has been a good deal of research lately devoted to TV consumption trends as they relate to increasing adoption of smart devices, and as TV increasingly becomes part of a multi-screen experience. Some signs point to TV multitasking as enhancing the viewing experience: for example, a recent study found that interacting with social media while watching TV drives increased program engagement. But a key question remains: are these viewers watching TV ads or picking up their devices? A new study [pdf] by Symphony Advanced Media sheds some light on this issue.

The study – sponsored by the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) – measured cross-media advertising effectiveness using passive measurement of ad exposure. This type of measurement captures data from panelists every second of every day without the need for panelist interaction, using a single source to time stamp TV, online and application usage.

The results reveal that 30-40% of actual TV ad viewing occurred concurrently with mobile device usage. It’s important to note that these results are limited to 3 test cases: a CPG brand; a wireless brand; and a pharma brand. (Each were national advertiser campaigns.) It’s also worth noting that the study was limited to participants who use their mobile device in front of the TV, so may not be representative of all mobile owners.

Still, on average, participants spent one-third of TV ad viewing time looking at their mobile phone or tablet. The researchers suggest that “TV viewers may not be tuning away from commercials… just picking up the phone or tablet.” While the study doesn’t measure the effects on ad attention or effectiveness, previous research from the IAB suggested that multi-screen users are actually better able to recall TV advertisers. The IAB posited then that the surprising result could be because people 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. (The listen to – rather than watch – TV phenomenon.)

Whether or not the IAB results would hold up under further testing, it’s interesting to have some hard data to support the IAB’s theory that viewers with mobile devices are using them during commercial breaks.

Other Findings:

  • The Symphony Advanced Media study also found that on average, viewers who were exposed to an ad across one of the 3 test campaigns consumed 24 hours of TV on average per week, while those who were not exposed to an ad watched an average of 10 hours per week. That’s a fairly logical result, in that heavy TV viewers are more likely to be exposed to a particular ad than light viewers.
  • Upper funnel metrics such as favorability and unaided awareness grew by 51% and 22%, respectively, when participants were exposed to both TV and online ad campaigns, versus TV campaigns only.