Study: More than Half (52 per cent ) Of Adult Cell Phone Owners Use Their Phones While Watching Television - The Rise Of The ‘Connected Viewer’

written by: Richard Kastelein

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Half of all adult cell phone owners now incorporate their mobile devices into their television watching experiences, according to a nationally representative telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Taken together, 52 per cent of all cell owners are “connected viewers” — meaning they use their phones while watching television for at least one of these reasons.

“These findings unify two trends occurring across modern media platforms: the rise of audience engagement and the rise of portable connectivity,” said Jan Lauren Boyles, a research intern at Pew Internet and a co-author of the report. “Television audiences are actively primed to participate, and these connected viewers are using mobile devices to debate, learn, and engage with programming and each other.”

The youngest adults are especially enamored of multi-screen viewing experiences, as 81 per cent of cell owners ages 18-24 are classified as connected viewers. At the same time, the use of mobile phones to engage with televised content is widespread throughout a range of demographic cohorts: well over half of cell owners between the ages of 25 and 44 are connected viewers, and nearly half of those in their mid-40s to mid-50s have used their phone recently to engage with — or distract themselves during — televised content.

From Kit Eaton at Fast Company:

But here are the killer stats that show just how much the future of TV is slipping off the big screen and into the smaller screen in TV viewer's hands: 20% had visited a website they'd seen mentioned on screen, and fully 38% used their phones to amuse themselves when there was a commercial or other break in the content they were watching.

That there's a 20% direct engagement from the audience to a simple website mention. And online brand relationships are going to become even more important when nearly four in 10 people deliberately tune out TV commercials by using their phone as a distraction.

Pew's data is actually a continuation of a trend that also includes iPad use while watching TV: Back in January 2011 a study showed how iPad owners were using their iPads at times of day that corresponded to prime-time TV slots, meaning the iPad was grabbing their attention away from the screen. Pew's data says one in two TV watchers in the U.S. now often interact with their phone as well as devoting attention to the TV (and, presumably, to other distractions like making a coffee or answering nature's call).

If you add the effect of iPads, phones and — soon — devices like smartwatches, then this means a lot of the business model where TV content is wrapped in adverts is going to have to change, and change swiftly. Meanwhile Google is pushing ahead with its own connected TV idea, and Apple is said to be planning its own entry at some point. Will these two firms' efforts only succeed if they also smoothly integrate smartphone and tablet use as part of the user's experience? Seems likely.

These “connected viewers” used their cell phones for a wide range of activities during the 30 days preceding our April 2012 survey:

  • 38 per cent of cell owners used their phone to keep themselves occupied during commercials or breaks in something they were watching
  • 23 per cent used their phone to exchange text messages with someone else who was watching the same program in a different location
  • 22 per cent used their phone to check whether something they heard on television was true or not
  • 20 per cent used their phone to visit a website that was mentioned on television
  • 11 per cent used their phone to see what other people were saying online about a program they were watching, and 11 per cent posted their own comments online about a program they were watching using their mobile phone
  • 6 per cent used their phone to vote for a reality show contestant

Other key differences that emerge in this research include:

  • Smartphone owners are far more likely to use their phones to engage with televised content than owners of more basic phones. Some 74 per cent of smartphone owners are connected viewers, compared with just 27 per cent of those with more basic phones.
  • African-American cell owners are more likely than whites or Latinos to use their phone to see what others are saying online and to post their own comments online about a program they are watching, as well as share text messages with someone else watching a program in a different location.
  • Cell owners living in households earning $50,000 per year or more are more likely to participate in interactive television experiences than those in households with lower annual incomes, and those with at least some college experience are more likely to do so than those who have not graduated high school. Additionally, urban residents are more likely to be connected viewers than those living in rural areas.

“Thanks to the widespread adoption of mobile technologies, what was once a passive, one-way information flow is often now a social contact sport,” said Aaron Smith, a Pew Internet researcher and co-author of the report. “Viewers are using these devices to find others who share their passions, to sound off on programming that captures their attention, and to go ‘beyond the broadcast’ to inform themselves more fully about the things they have heard and experienced.”

The Pew Internet report is based on a survey conducted from March 15-April 3 among 2,254 adults ages 18 and over, including surveys in English and Spanish and on both landline and cell phones. The margin of error for cell phone owners is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.


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