Three years ago, Stanford Communications Professor Emeritus Donald F. Roberts believed that American youth had hit a ceiling on media use, as there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to increase the amount of time children were spending on media. He was astounded to see that time spent on media consumption did in fact grow, as young individuals began consuming heavily across multiple devices at the same time. And the numbers have continued to increase since: More than 80% of US online consumers ages 12 to 17 multitask online while watching TV.
Multitasking behavior among this demographic has changed not only in terms of the total number of hours but also in terms of the devices used. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that in 2011, young consumers primarily went online via desktop or laptop computers while watching TV, while now they prefer to use more portable devices for multitasking activity:
The proliferation of mobile and portable Internet-connected devices has made TV multitasking the norm. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that about four out of five US online adults who own a laptop, smartphone, or tablet go online regularly while watching TV, but the intensity of interaction differs by device.
My colleague Tracy Stokes wrote about this in a report called “The New Layers Of TV Audience Insight.” Her take: Just because your TV audience is active on social and digital platforms doesn’t mean that they will blindly engage with your brand. To drive cross-media engagement, you have to have a clear call to action that easily conveys why consumers should be active across multiple media channels.
But when you do it right, there’s a lot to gain. Research from Discovery Communications shows that exposure to more digital touchpoints while watching TV can strengthen consumers' connection to content and brands, not detract from it. Discovery's study found that users who multitask with devices while they watch TV are more attentive and responsive to TV programming and advertising than the average viewer.
At the end of 2010, we published a blog post about the results of our annual US “Understanding The Need Of The Changing Consumer” report, in which we reported that for the first time ever the average time US consumer reports spending online is the same as what they report spending watching offline TV. As the data is self-reported it's different from the metrics collected by Nielsen or comScore, but it tells a very important story that is coming directly from the mouths of consumers: In their minds, time spent with offline and online media is split equally.
However, this discussion came at a time when the iPad had only been launched for about six months and worldwide there were less than 15 million iPads sold. At the end of 2011, we conducted a quantitative Technographics® study and ran a qualitative project in our Community Speaks community to better understand: the relationship among tablets, laptops, and TV; how consumers are currently using the Internet and TV; and how they’d like to do so in the future. Forrester's Technographics data shows that many consumers who own a laptop or tablet use that to go online while watching television:
Many people consume content from multiple media channels simultaneously (see for example this recent post on European youth), but does the content they’re looking at actually overlap? We looked into our Technographics® data to see what consumers are doing on their computers while watching a TV show and we found that the top four activities have nothing to do with what they are watching.
Because consumers are using their PC for activities that require more attention than watching TV – which is mostly a passive activity — it’s questionable how much of the TV content they are even registering. Almost one-third of consumers are playing games on their computers while watching television, and one-quarter are doing schoolwork. Has the TV just become background noise?
We also see that 44% of consumers are communicating with friends via social networks, chat, and email on topics that are not related to the show. So consumers are interested in content online, but not necessarily in parallel with the broadcasting of a show. Market researchers need to develop a research plan that helps companies understand how and when consumers watch TV, and when they are checking out online content related to the company's products or brand, in order to build a marketing strategy that reinforces the message across channels.
Throughout the past 12 years of our Technographics® surveys, we’ve observed digital technology’s role in consumers’ lives increasing steadily.
Today, technologies like PCs and mobile phones, which were once reserved for the most well-heeled tech freaks, are in three-quarters of US households. For media consumption, however, new formats don't necessarily replace old ones. Our Technographics data shows that while new media sources occupy more of young consumers’ time, it’s the traditional media sources that continue to maintain popularity across both younger and older consumer groups.
This continued reliance on traditional media explains why cross-channel media adoption is still seeing slow growth. The Weather Channel leads this race, as it did in previous years, with one-quarter of respondents indicating they both watch The Weather Channel and log in online.
A couple of weeks ago I published a Data Digest on European consumers’ media consumption. One of the questions that always comes up when I present this data to clients is how focused consumers are when they're watching TV or using the Internet. Our Technographics® data shows that consumers aren't focused at all: About 40% of US youth were watching TV the last time that they used the Internet, and a third were texting.
But consumers don’t just multitask across different channels; they also do many different things on the PC at the same time. We asked European consumers the following question: "Which of the following activities do you regularly do at the same time when you’re using your PC (by that we mean that you are combining multiple activities)?" About half of European youth use IM when using the Internet, and about 60% listen to music. Undivided attention is something that's hard to find these days.
There’s a lot of debate around which media channels consumers access and how much time they spend on each. Our Technographics® data reveals that young Europeans spend a total of about 40 hours per week on any type of media, and this number then declines with age. The biggest drivers of young consumers’ high levels of media engagement are Internet use and time spent playing games, both of which drop dramatically among older age groups:
However, these numbers are for the total European population and include countries like Spain and Italy, where Internet uptake is lower both in general and especially among older consumers. When we look at these numbers for the UK Internet population, for example, all age groups spend around 41 hours per week on different media activities. The total time spent doesn’t change much by age group, but the type of media activity does: Older consumers spend more time watching TV and reading newspapers than younger consumers, while the time they spend on the Internet decreases.
Just after X-mas there were a lot of tweets about the news that Amazon.com had sold more ebooks at Christmas day than real books, as a result of the Kindle being the most gifted item in Amazon's history.