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Multitasking College Students Keep Multiple Screens on Hand

Many different web activities popular while watching TV

Despite limited resources, college students in the US have a variety of internet-enabled devices to keep them constantly connected. According to marketing solutions company re:fuel’s “College Explorer” study conducted by Crux Research, nearly seven out of 10 surveyed college students between the ages of 18 and 34 owned a smartphone in 2013, up 14 percentage points from 2012. Tablets made an even bigger leap, owned by 36% of college web users, up from 21% in 2012. And laptops were nearly ubiquitous, reaching 85%, after a drop in 2012.

Mobile is having the biggest impact on how college students apportion their screen time. Daily time spent on the computer and watching TV decreased in 2013, while daily time spent with the mobile phone and tablet were up by about 18 minutes each, compared with 2012.

But even if daily time spent watching TV is diminishing, a considerable 60% of college students reported owning a flat-screen TV; and TV viewing was still a major portion of students’ media time, clocking in at 2.8 hours per day. While time spent on the computer or mobile may be higher, activity on these devices can run the gamut—from using a word processing program for schoolwork to making a phone call.

By comparison, when students turn on the TV, it is to watch a program, even if using other devices is a corollary part of the experience. The study found that eight out of 10 college students reported using a second screen at least a few times a week while watching TV. Only 13% did so less than once a week, or not at all.

The most popular activity students engaged in while watching TV was using Facebook or Twitter, at 63% of respondents. Social TV can be boon to TV marketers and advertisers, but there is always the possibility that social networks are merely distractions from TV content.

Surfing the web was the next most common activity while watching TV, at 58% of respondents, while half also reported playing games. Schoolwork wasn’t completely forgotten while students vegged out in front of the television, though—37% said they did homework or research while watching TV.

And in a sign that the second screen may be an opportunity for TV marketers and advertisers to gain student viewers’ extra attention, about one-quarter of students looked up the TV schedule on a second screen, and about the same percentage shopped.

The computer was the most popular second screen, used by 54% of respondents, followed by the smartphone (36%) and tablet (10%).


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