The Future Of TV Is Two Screens, One Held Firmly In Your Hands

You know when you’re watching TV and you have to check what films an actor’s been in, or what the live score is in that baseball game you’re only slightly interested in…so you grab your smartphone? That’s the future.

The Future Of TV Is Two Screens, One Held Firmly In Your Hands


The connected TV, sometimes called the smart TV (and even branded as such by Samsung) is a growing phenomenon: TV makers are adding limited apps, Net connectivity, and even streaming media powers to their newer TVs in the hope they’ll persuade you to upgrade your newish LCD for a flatter, smarter unit. They’re desperate to, given how flat this market is. But according to new research from Pew, the future of TV may actually be a little more closely aligned with the notion of a “connected TV viewer,” an important distinction.

Pew spoke to over 2,200 U.S. adults a couple of months ago and discovered that 52% of all adult cell phone owners now “incorporate their mobile devices into their television watching experiences.”

Here’s more:

  • 6% of these “connected viewers” had voted for a reality show result in the preceding 30 days
  • 11% checked what people were saying online about a program they were viewing
  • 11% commented online about a program they were watching
  • 22% checked to see if something they’d seen on TV was true
  • 23% texted someone they knew was watching the same TV content elsewhere

It’s a feast for social media marketers. Maybe we’re even seeing a bit of the “CSI effect” in there, with people seeking out real-world data on something fantastical portrayed in a drama–or, in a utopian fantasy, fact-checking overtly biased news reports in the thick of the political season.

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 is a key fact for advertisers. And such 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 wrappered 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.

[Image: Flickr user Mark Sebastian]

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