What Can Nielsen’s Latest Report on Second Screen Usage Mean For Marketers?



Over 70% of consumers are using an additional device while watching TV. Here’s what you can do with that extra exposure.

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In 2012, a Pew survey drew our attention to what they called “the rise of the connected viewer.” In it, they observed that a number of people “have used their phones recently for engagement, diversion, or interaction with other people while watching TV.” Six years later, this practice is even more common—although, according to Nielsen’s latest report on the topic, these screens serve a somewhat different purpose.

Nielsen’s report reveals that 45% of surveyed adults “very often” or “always” use a digital device like a phone or tablet while watching TV; another 28% reported doing so “sometimes.” This represents a significant percentage of the TV viewing population who is actively dividing attention across screens. Yet while the Pew survey of 2012 points to diversion as a reason for the second screen, Nielsen’s seeing more on the side of engagement and interaction. In reviewing the results, TechCrunch noted that “we’re using the second screen to augment the overall TV viewing experience, not detract from it.”

These findings fall in line with Pew’s March 2018 study reporting how many consumers identify as being “constantly online.” One in four Americans, and nearly 40 percent of those aged 18-29, feel as though they never stop actively using mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and others. According to their research, “Other demographic groups that report going online frequently include college-educated adults, black adults, adults who live in higher-income households and non-rural residents.” This feeling of being constantly captivated by a smaller screen would necessarily include the time we spend engaging with bigger, or other, screens.

So what else are we doing while watching TV? Among the highlights from the survey:

  • 71% use their phone or tablet to look up something related to what they’re watching
  • 41% use it to message someone via text, email, or social media about what they’re watching
  • 35% shop for a product or service they’ve seen in an ad
  • 28% write or read social media posts related to the content they’re viewing.

These details can guide marketers and brands toward meaningful action on social media during the peak times of viewing (9pm-10pm, regardless of whether the content being viewed is live or time-shifted). Live posting during prime time programming, providing tidbits or fun facts about popular shows and connecting them to your brand could save viewers time when looking for these details on their own. Capitalizing on a mention of your brand in a program (Whole Foods did this expertly when they became a plot point on the second season of Netflix’s Master of None in 2017) could bring new customers into your orbit. Offering special deals to coincide with the happenings of a certain show might attract new fans. Even finding ways to signify that you know what people are watching, and that you’re enjoying it or share common questions, could endear you to followers who watch popular programming.

The report also shares insight on multi-screen usage in tandem with audio (streaming music, podcasts, etc.), though the complexity of listening and engaging with a screen makes it a far less common activity. 53% report never combining the two, and only 4% say they do so “very often.” So when it comes to coordinating marketing and branding efforts with audio, commenting on recent album releases or podcasts could be useful, but is less likely to have the simultaneous reach of that with TV.

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