June 05, 2014

The Second Screen Mystery

Maybe you can help me understand something.

I often read that TV advertising isn't as powerful as it once was because people are sometimes distracted by other media while they're watching TV. They're tweeting, or they're on Facebook, or they are doing something else on line.

While I haven't seen any research that confirms this hypothesis, it seems logical to me and I think it's probably true.

Here's what I don't understand. Why isn't the same thing true for online advertising?

If a "second screen" distracts us from TV advertising, why doesn't it distract us from online advertising? If we're watching TV and we're on Facebook simultaneously, doesn't it seem curious that Facebook distracts us from TV but TV doesn't distract us from Facebook?

Is there something unique about online advertising that makes it immune to the second screen effect? If so, I'd love to know what that magical thing is.

You see, here's the thing. If multi-tasking is really as damaging as our chattering media experts seem to think it is, then it is having a far more deleterious effect on online advertising than on TV.

Here's why.

We know how much time the average person spends watching TV and we know how much she spends on line. According to Nielsen's Cross-Platform Report for the 1st quarter of this year, the average adult (18+) spent about 36 hours a week watching TV and about 5 hours a week on line.

I don't know how much time the average person spends doing both simultaneously, but it doesn't matter. Whatever the number is, it affects online advertising 7 times as much as it does TV advertising.

Here's why.

Let's say the average person spends 2 hours a week double-screening. That means she is distracted from TV by a second screen 2 hours out of 36, or about 6% of the time. But she is distracted from the web by a second screen 2 hours out of 5, or 40% of the time.

If you're bad at math, here's what it looks like visually.

So if multi-tasking is bad for advertising, the pernicious effect has to be way badder for online advertising than for TV advertising. In fact, it has to be 7 times badder.

It's funny that I never hear about this from agency media experts or read about it in the trade press.

It couldn't be that these meatballs will thoughtlessly swallow and regurgitate any bullshit the online ad industry feeds them, could it?

Nah, I didn't think so.


Rich said...

Once upon a time, before smart phones, tablets and facebook,
we accepted that every TV ad was up against something big and interesting. It was called ‘life’.

To avoid disruption from 'life', your ad had to be more compelling than: making a cup of tea, having a sandwich, screaming at your crying child, talking to your wife, wrestling your dog, shagging your girlfriend, or heaven forbid, surfing channels – as well as the myriad of other things that might actually be going on in people’s 'lives'.

Strangely, this thing called ‘life’ was never seen as a reason to stop advertising on TV. Nope, it was always a reason to make better TV ads.

And your second screen? Just another part of ‘life’. And equally as affected by it.

Mark Hill said...

The screen is not there as a distraction. It is an enhancement. The screen sits there beside us as we watch TV. When something captures our interest, we go to the screen for more. Essentially, TV acts as picture and headline while the screen acts as body copy.

PixieSlasher said...

But hasn't TV been, among other things, a background medium even before gadgets entered the stage? Like turning it on and listening half-attentively to the news while making dinner?

bside said...

While reading this, I wrote 2 emails, drafted 2 others, sent a text, sent an IM, changed the record to the B-side and completely forgot what I was doing. Oh yeah.

Josh said...

So the headline and the picture are on the wall of the subway station and the body copy is on the floor. And in order to read the body copy, you need to specifically type in a request and then walk to one of half a dozen tiles where it may or may not be.

Charlotte said...

Bob, you’re getting so statistic-y (yesterday) and math-y
(today), with diagrams and charts to boot. I love it! Like class without having
to attend . . .

luisgdelafuente said...

I think the online attention is of a much lower quality in general. I mean, the attention span is extremely short in places like Facebook and so, and this is one of the reasons for the online advertising to perform so poorly. On the other hand, attention and focus is much higher on TV.

I think TV and online attention spans are not comparable because they put people in very different moods...

Charles said...

And last time I watched TV, I didn't have a fuckton of banner ads cropping up INSIDE my screen, forcing me to redirect my attention to locate the X so I could euthanize the distraction.

LeShann said...

I remember reading recently that actually most of the second screen time is spent doing things unrelated to the content being watched.

LeShann said...

With ifs, if my aunt had testicules she'd be my uncle.
I think your analysis in this case is a little far reaching. We'd have to measure the difference in attention. Considering one is primarily a pulled media, I wouldn't be surprised if its "attention" was higher. As a matter of fact, if you switch attention away from the computer, not much happens - the activity usually freezes until you get back, unless. If you switch away from the TV, then there is a lot of missed content.
Secondly, we have no data (that I know of) detailing the amount of time spent dual screening when watching online content. Your 2 hour calculation (unless I missed something in your sources) cannot be taken as "2 hours on each media". It's very possible that the 2 hours are split proportionately between the two media channels, in which case the impact is similar.

Anyway, I don't think the internet has to be considered as the enemy to TV in general, I don't see the point in putting it so black and white.

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