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The Battle for Attention: Television vs Mobile

Nowadays, even when people are watching a show or film on television, their smartphone, tablet or laptop hardly gets a rest. Last year, research conducted by Google revealed that over 75% of British television viewers regularly made use of a second connected device whilst watching TV. We examine the evolvement of the latest multi-screening trends, how they are impacting the way we watch TV and what this could mean for marketers around the world.

5 min read

Facebook’s Primary Research

In the past, research has demonstrated that the combined use of television and mobile is increasing in popularity, allowing people to relax and enjoy their TV shows or movies whilst connected to the rest of the world through the Internet on their mobile device, or any other complimentary device for that matter.

In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of viewers’ TV watching habits, Facebook decided to monitor the behaviour of 763 Facebook users in six different countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, Brazil, Indonesia and the United States) through a study, dubbed the “Attention Study”.

How could they possibly track that, I hear you say! Well, in short, Facebook found a way to pinpoint and visualise exactly what viewers were looking at during their TV watching sessions. This was achieved through an ‘in-home eye- and device-tracking study’ which recorded what viewers were looking at through a little camera placed within the participants’ glasses. A pair of these special glasses was given to each participant.

A red dot would then visualise exactly what the viewers were looking at and where their attention was focused on. Meanwhile, Facebook also had access to the participants’ mobile screens, allowing them to monitor their online activity and gain an understanding of what apps they mainly use whilst watching television.

Initial research concluded that during an evening of watching TV at home, participants looked at their smartphone 31% of the time, with the majority of them checking out a social app during this activity. Furthermore, over 55% of users’ mobile time was spent on Facebook-owned platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

Bearing these statistics in mind, the following questions remain: Where exactly do TV viewers focus their attention on and at what point does mobile usage increase during television watching times?

Mobile vs TV

Firstly, as we slowly approach the full swing of the holiday season, it’s appropriate to mention that studies have revealed that TV consumption experiences a steady increase during the holiday season, especially during the Christmas period.

According to reports, last year, British people spent an average of 40 hours sitting on their sofa during Christmas, watching TV, hanging out with friends, recovering from a large meal and so on. It will come as no surprise that the mobile phone is used frequently throughout this period. It would, therefore, be fair to say that as TV consumption increases, so does mobile and social media activity.

Anyway, back to our principle point. Although the answer may be obvious, some of you might still wonder when viewers are most likely to pick up their phone and browse whilst they watch TV. Results showed that TV viewers were on their mobile 28% of the time during a TV show and more than half the time during ad breaks. Whilst the decline in attention towards the TV during advertisements isn’t unsurprising, the time spent on mobiles during a TV show is more of a significant figure.

It is, however, also important to keep in mind that in this era, where many download their shows or use online streaming services such as Netflix, the time spent watching TV advertising has been significantly reduced over the years, although traditional TV viewing is still popular amongst many around the world. Nevertheless, reports have concluded that TV viewers will still spend significant amounts of time on their mobiles whilst watching their television series or film.

Generational Differences

Research also showed that the younger participants were far more likely to check their mobile phones during TV ads. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since multi-screening is a relatively new phenomenon. However, the difference between young and old isn’t as huge as one may think.

Results showed that participants between the ages of 18-24 look at their mobile phones approximately 60% of the time whilst watching TV ads, whereas those aged 45 and over do it just over 40% of the time. No real statistical difference was registered between the two different generations when focusing on multi-screening during non-advert TV shows or movies.

Mobile Activity

When sampling the results of all participants from the six different countries, the three primary app categories that people used most whilst watching television were Social apps (43.1%), Messaging apps (15.5%) and Browser apps (14.1%). Although the popularity of app categories differed from country to country whilst watching TV, one consistent and common theme was that social apps were the most used app category amongst all nationalities.

Considering the popularity of social apps during TV watching times, it will come as no surprise that the different Facebook-owned apps are accessed quite frequently during both ads and regular television. Research has shown that 55% of time spent on smartphones during TV watching was spent on either Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger.


American writer Matthew Crawford once said that “Attention is a resource - a person has only so much of it.” This is especially true in this day and age where it is absolutely vital that advertisers and marketers understand the way in which their audience consumes and digests different media. According to predicted forecasts, by 2019, people in the US will spend the same amount of time on their mobile as they do watching television, especially considering the fact they’re now starting to be used in combination so frequently.

It is, therefore, crucial for advertisers to stretch their campaigns across more than just one screen. And with the holiday season coming up and many people curling up on their couches and watching some good old television with family and friends, now is the time for advertisers to take action and try to grab people’s attention by reaching out to them via multiple screens.

What do you think? Are you surprised by some of these statistics? Let us know in the comments section below! And in case you haven’t yet, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter in order to stay up to date with our latest content, news, updates and inspirational blogs & whitepapers!

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