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As digital devices take an increasingly prominent place in the lives of US consumers, media use is becoming characterized not by the influence of any single device or platform, but by the simultaneous use of multiple ones. Consuming digital content in a nonlinear manner, using whatever screen is most convenient at any given time, is now commonplace. And the fluidity with which people access media—whether TV shows, movies, news, music or games—carries implications for content owners, platform providers, technology firms, app developers and marketers, according to a new eMarketer report, “Simultaneous Media Use: Screen Fragmentation Complements Traditional Channels.”
Of the seemingly infinite ways consumers multitask with media, the most common is the use of a digital device while watching TV. In some cases, this digital activity pertains directly to the show or ad that people watch, while in other instances the activities are unrelated.
Although many viewers use ad-skipping technologies or simply tune out during TV commercials, a February 2014 study from Facebook conducted by Millward Brown Digital found that 78% of US internet users accessed second screens during shows, compared with 71% who did so during ads. And among those whose attention drifted to other screens during programs, most picked the run of the show for their excursions, as opposed to limiting second screening to previews, end credits, recaps or songs. This finding might surprise anyone who figured consumers waited until commercials to shift their attention to the “other” screen.
Among the most prevalent digital activities during both commercials and shows were checking email and visiting social media. Texting or calling someone was further down the activity list, followed by internet searches and shopping. A far lesser priority for survey participants was looking for information about the show or seeking out products or brands that were advertised during commercial breaks. Again, this finding speaks of fragmented attention rather than responding purposefully to calls to action embedded in content
The takeaway is that a major portion of digital activity during TV shows has nothing to do with the show or the commercials. People simply drift away from the program and do other activities on their devices. This represents a transformation in the role of television from being a focal point to being just one of many screens competing for attention.
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