On Second Screens, Only 12 Percent of Viewers Engage with Show Content

Americans are using their smartphones and tablets while watching television, but most aren't browsing programming-related content, a recent survey conducted by CivicScience, a polling and research firm, has revealed. Of the 7,409 respondents, 45 percent are using secondary devices while watching television, but 80 percent of second-screeners consider themselves distracted, meaning they're checking email, texting, or interacting with Web sites or apps unrelated to what's on TV. Only 12 percent are engaging with the show in some way.

The research also revealed that when viewers do interact with content related to the program, they prefer to engage on social media rather than through apps or show-related Web sites, with preferences varying only slightly by age. Nine percent of viewers age 13 to 24 use social media to connect with the show, while only 4 percent of viewers age 25 to 34 do the same. When it comes to apps or Web sites, however, age doesn't matter—2.4 percent of viewers in both age groups exhibit the same preference.

"It's not surprising that younger audiences prefer social media, but the overall performance of show-related apps and content is interesting. Many shows have been promoting their apps to viewers, but viewers are not necessarily impressed," Jennifer Sikora, vice president of marketing at CivicScience, says.

Indeed, networks have been experimenting with supplementary content in the hopes of luring viewers into watching programs live, instead of watching recorded content and skipping commercials. By promising more live viewers, networks are also hoping to please advertisers.

Comcast's USA Network, for example, has synchronized digital content available for all of its original shows. For Graceland, a new series about a group of law-enforcement agents living together in one house, the network has put together a cyber tour of the house. As the show's plot develops, the house will become more interactive, and users will become privy to exclusive content, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Others have developed similar supplemental content as well, but Sikora suggests that the absence of a social component may be the reason why users aren't as engaged as the networks would like. "There's a lot of emphasis on gamification and exclusivity but what viewers, especially young viewers, want is social interaction. Building apps or sites that encourage interaction between fans may drive more visitors," she says.

The survey results also suggest that because distracted users are often checking email, texting, or browsing other sites, those channels may be viable ways to attract them to show-related content.

"The greater opportunity for advertisers might be to time their advertising on digital devices, via programmatic buying, with the timing of their TV commercials—and to do so across more than the show's apps or Web site," Joel Rubinson, president and founder of Rubinson Partners, who worked with CivicScience in this study, wrote in a summary of the survey. "Well-timed and well-placed online advertising that targets viewers on nonrelated sites may be warranted, as does getting a deeper profile of viewers who are showing better levels of online show engagement," he added.

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