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Even During TV Time, Digital Devices Play Prominent Role

Nearly 85% of internet users surf the web while watching TV

Call it a one-two punch to advertisers and content providers. With Americans’ attention increasingly divided among an ever-expanding array of internet-connected devices, the number of people multitasking while watching television continues to rise, while cord-cutting also accelerates.

US Adult Simultaneous Internet & TV User Penetration, by Device, 2014-2018 (% of internet users)

This year, 182.9 million Americans will use the internet while watching TV at least once a month, according to eMarketer’s first forecast of simultaneous media usage. That translates to 80.3% of internet users.

Not surprisingly, smartphones are the device of choice for multitaskers. This year, 146.9 million Americans will browse the web or use internet-connected apps on their phone (including chat apps) while they watch TV, representing more than two-thirds of internet users. And 68.0% of US internet users will use an internet-connected smartphone to do so. By 2018, that figure is expected to climb to 79.1%, the same year that 91.6% of internet users will use the web and TV at the same time.

Americans' TV time is becoming increasingly distracted at a time when cord-cutting is already accelerating. This year, the number of cord-cutters will grow 15.7%, causing the number of pay TV viewers to drop 0.6% from last year. That means this year, the US will lose 1.3 million pay TV viewers.

US Adult Pay TV Viewers and Nonviewers, by Type, 2014-2019 (millions and % change)

So what type of content are people consuming on their internet-connected devices while they watch TV? As it turns out, most are looking at content unrelated to the TV program. This year, only 25.5% of simultaneous media users will consume related content online while watching TV.

“The good news for advertisers and content owners is that as addressable, programmatic and cross-device advertising continue to evolve, they’ll provide marketers with better ways to reach desired audiences irrespective of device,” said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna.

US Adult Related-Content Simultaneous Internet and TV Users and Penetration, 2014-2018 (millions and % of adult simultaneous internet and TV users)

Another bright spot for advertisers and content providers is that the percentage of simultaneous users consuming related content will increase. There are a number of reasons for this. The mobile web and apps are making it increasingly easier for viewers to get more information about the show or sporting event they’re watching, such as an actor’s name or stats about their favorite team. Also, the increasing prevalence of social media and messaging apps allows people to connect with others about the TV content.

“Advertisers are beginning to exploit the multitasking phenomenon by encouraging consumers to make a purchase within minutes of seeing a TV commercial,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Marcus Johnson. “As ads become more targeted, viewers will be more likely to act on them in the moment because of their relevance to the TV program they are watching.”

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