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CRE-TV-and-MultiScreening-by-Device-July2013TV viewers frequently multitask, and while multitasking activities are varied (here’s one list), they often involve a second screen. One of the central questions surrounding multi-screening involves the extent to which the second screen is used for a TV-related activity as opposed to a non-related activity. And although study results indicate that multi-screen behavior most often involves unrelated activities, new data from the Council for Research Excellence (CRE) [pdf] suggests that screen size may play a big role.

The CRE surveyed Americans aged 15-64 who have broadband internet access at home and watch at least 5 hours of TV per week, narrowing the field down to those who own mobile devices and watch TV on them (“mobile TV viewers”). This group comprised more than 3,000 respondents and roughly 230,000 viewing occasions.

The study examined multi-screen activity across those viewing occasions, segmenting the activity by primary screen. First, the top-level results:

  • 55% of the time, mobile TV viewers used another screen while watching TV on a traditional set;
  • 61% of the time, these viewers used another screen while watching TV on a computer;
  • 59% of tablet TV viewing occasions involved another screen; and
  • 53% of smartphone TV viewing occasions involved another screen.

On the surface, that suggests that these TV viewers are actually more focused on content they’re watching on TV than on a computer or tablet, a fairly intriguing result. Even so, the figures don’t vary hugely from one device to the next.

The bigger differences come when examining the activities that are being performed while multi-screening. Although the study doesn’t list individual activities, it does segment them into two groups: “only non-related activity” and “related & related plus non-related activity.”

In this case, those watching on a TV were the most likely to engage in only non-related activities. Among the mobile TV-viewing group, 34% of viewing occasions involved non-related activities on another screen. Put another way, 62% of multi-screening occasions involved strictly non-related activities.

While 31% of computer viewing occasions involved only non-related activities on a second screen, because computer viewers were more likely to multi-screen, the proportion of multi-screening occasions involving non-related activities was closer to 50%.

Here’s how the figures broke out:

  • 62% of TV multi-screening occasions were for strictly un-related activities;
  • 51% of computer multi-screening occasions were for strictly un-related activities;
  • 46% of tablet multi-screening occasions were for strictly un-related activities; and
  • 26% of smartphone multi-screening occasions were for strictly un-related activities.

Those results show a clear pattern: the smaller the device, the less likely the multi-screen activity is to be unrelated.

The data does need to be interpreted with some caution. The main concern is that it’s not possible to extrapolate the results to the entire TV viewing population. In other words, it would not be correct to say that TV viewers multi-screen 55% of the time. These results are limited to consumers who own mobile devices and use them to watch TV. It’s likely that mobile TV viewers are more engaged with their devices, and therefore possible that they’d also be more likely than the average TV viewer to use their mobile device as a second screen.

Also, the results need to be considered in context. While the data suggests that tablet and smartphone viewing occasions are less often combined with unrelated second-screen activities, it’s worth noting that tablet and smartphones are rarely used to watch TV. Indeed, as the CRE pointed out in a previous release, TV was the dominant viewing device even among the mobile TV group at 84% of logged hours, compared to 9% on a computer, 4% on a tablet, and 3% on a smartphone.

Nevertheless, the study presents new and interesting data to add to the discussion of TV and multiscreening.

About the Data: The study, “TV Untethered,” was launched in November 2012 to understand if and how mobile media devices ”“ tablets, mobile phones and laptops ”“ impact overall television viewing behavior. It encompassed nearly 6,000 participants and more than 393,000 TV viewing occasions, and included a quantitative phase, exploring video-user demographics, as well as a qualitative phase exploring users’ motivations and behaviors via in-home interviews in three markets ”“ Atlanta, Phoenix and Kansas City.

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