Advanced Television

Thinkbox: Multi-screening encourages more TV and ad viewing

June 28, 2012

Using a second screen while watching TV encourages more TV viewing and gives people more exposure to – and the opportunity to respond to – TV ads, a new study carried out for Thinkbox – the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK – by COG Research has revealed.

Screen Life: The View from the Sofa’ examines the context of multi-screening (watching TV and simultaneously using an internet-connected device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet).

The Screen Life research used a combination of research techniques. It examined over 700 hours of TV viewing gathered from filming the living rooms of 23 multi-screening households in the UK for a week. This footage then underwent psycho-physiological analysis to examine actual programme and ad break engagement. This was coupled with self-reporting from the households involved using COG’s digital ethnography technique; a laboratory test to examine ad recognition; and online research among 2,000 people with TV and online access.

Key findings include:

Multi-screening keeps viewers present for ad breaks


  • People in the sample were more likely to stay in the room or not change the channel during the ad break if they were multi-screening. Multi-screening viewers stayed in the room for 81 per cent of ad breaks; viewers not multi-screening stayed in the room for 72 per cent.
  • 31 per cent of people in the UK (with access to TV and the Internet) have chatted about TV programmes or ads on a second screen; this rises to 56 per cent for 16-24s
  • 22 per cent chatted via text; 18 per cent via social media; 10 per cent via mobile messenger services.

In terms of multi-screening encouraging more TV viewing, the study found that:


  • On average, when only one person was in the room and was multi-screening, 64 per cent of their TV viewing sessions lasted for longer than 15 minutes. This compares to 47 per cent when watching with no accompanying activity.
  • When two people were present, as expected, due to increased interaction the figures were lower. 41 per cent of viewing sessions were for longer than 15 minutes when multi-screening compared to 37 per cent when watching with no accompanying activity.

In a laboratory test where participants were invited to watch TV and/or use a laptop without being made aware they were to be tested on TV ad recognition, there was no significant difference in the level of ad recognition between people when multi-screening or only watching TV.

Participants in the Screen Life research reported that multi-screening – like other new TV technologies, such as digital recorders – makes them feel closer to TV as it enables them to research what they watch, share with online friends and participate.

Interviews with households that took part in Screen Life showed that partners and children are more likely to keep a TV viewer company if they can multi-screen – whereas previously they might have not stayed in the room.

The study found that multi-screening is establishing itself in the living room:

  • People have always multi-tasked when watching TV; multi-screening is the latest accompaniment
  • 86 per cent of people in the UK (with access to TV and the Internet) have ever multi-screened
  • 34 per cent of the sample claim to multi-screen regularly

Neil Mortensen, Thinkbox’s Research and Planning Director, suggested that multi-screening was a huge benefit and opportunity for TV advertisers. “Not just because it encourages people to watch more TV and more ad breaks – and does not adversely affect ad recognition – but because viewers now have the ability to act on what they see immediately. We’ve always multi-tasked in front of the TV but two screening is an incredibly complementary accompaniment,” he said.

Linear TV viewing figures in the UK for 2011 equalled the record high set in 2010. The average viewer watched 4 hours, 2 minutes of linear TV a day in 2011 (28 hours, 14 minutes a week), according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB).

This strong performance underlined viewers’ preference for watching TV as it is broadcast and on a TV set whenever possible. Commercial TV channels (i.e. non-BBC channels) were responsible for maintaining the record viewing level, accounting for 64 per cent of all linear TV viewing, an increase of 1.3 per cent points on 2010. For the younger 16-34 audience this rises to 72 per cent.

Thinkbox was among the first to identify and study the emerging phenomenon of multi-screening in its 2010 Tellyporting study with Decipher. This new research launches a series of Thinkbox studies under the banner of ‘Screen Life’. The series will examine the way that people interact with TV today across multiple screens. For more on Thinkbox research, visit

The study included the analysis of interaction around second screen activities such as activity on social network sites and mobile messaging services, as well as mobile eye tracking to provide a detailed account of how people attend when two screening. Homes will also self-report during the study process using COG’s award-winning digital ethnography technique (which won the New Consumer Insight award at the MRS in December 2011).



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