Sofa-Friendly iPad Reading Could Eat Into Primetime TV's User Attention

vintage family TV iPad

The iPad is changing how folks read stuff online—no surprise if you think how different a gizmo it is to a PC. But a new study shows it's moving online reading into primetime TV hours, which is big news. Is evening reading coming back, just in a digital style?

The study comes from internal data acquired by ReadItLater, a web service that lets users bookmark web content for perusal at a different time. Though you may think this slightly colors the dataset, the way this service works gives the company unique access to time-coded data on how iPad users (and traditional computer users) read content online.

By looking at how traffic moves through their servers, normalized for global time differences, the ReadItLater team worked out how traditional PC users spread their online reading out during the day. As you may expect, given how deeply into our everyday lives the computer has penetrated, the curve of content consumption is pretty stable—not much happens in the wee small hours of the day, then as people wake and go to work there's more traffic, with a small peak spread out around traditional lunch hours and another around 8PM after the evening meal.

When you look at iPhone and iPad user traffic, distinct from "normal" PCs, everything is suddenly very different. iPhone users have distinct peaks in their reading habits, timed to correspond with the morning routine of breakfast, then a commute to work, the end of the work day and homeward journey, and then last thing in the evening. This matches the iPhone's status as a handy, portable, always-on Net browser that's good for quick content consumption.

But it's with the iPad that the statistics get very odd indeed: With minor usage spikes first thing in the morning, at lunchtime and then dinner time, the main bulk of iPad text content consumption is from 7PM to 11PM. 

This is prime-time TV's slot, and it seems that as well as settling back on the sofa to watch TV, people are taking their iPad with them too. The data doesn't reveal if folk are multitasking (spending some time ogling their favorite shows, some looking data up on the Web) or are ignoring the TV altogether—but the data will still be of concern to TV execs who expect uninterrupted attention from TV watchers, in order to maximize ad revenues. 

Plus it's something of a return to a traditional leisure hour image: People settling down on the couch after the evening meal to read the paper or a book, possibly to listen to the radio at the same time. Remembering a study last year that showed how much time users devote to reading magazines on an iPad, we have to wonder is the iPad causing a renaissance in reading—just digitally, and with Web content as well as digital books content? If this is true, then Rupert Murdoch's Daily iPad newspaper is arriving with pinpoint timing. And the hordes of Android tablets that have just arrived should accentuate the effect. This is thus something that PR and advertising executives need to pay careful attention to, because the attention focus of the average consumer may be switching away from the TV to their other (newer) powerful glowing screen—in their laps.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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