Multi-Screen Becoming the Standard Instead of the Exception for Many Activities

Multi-Screen Becoming the Standard Instead of the Exception for Many Activities

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Google just put out some fairly interesting research about how we’ve become a predominantly multi-screen society. It looks at how we surf, shop and consume media, including TV, across a variety of screens both sequentially (start on one screen, pause then finish on another) and simultaneously (supplemental app or multi-tasking).

I had been thinking for some time that TV with second screen apps might just be an evolutionary step toward single screen connected TV. But more recently I started thinking that it might not be an evolutionary dead end. There are numerous things that can be accomplished with a second screen which might not be as easily achieved with a single screen experience. Now that I see the numbers coming from Google’s report, The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior, I think my change of heart is further justified. Google wasn’t specifically focusing on connected TV or media consumption but since that’s our bailiwick here I thought I would zoom in on it.


Google teamed with Ipsos to do the research in two phases, qualitative and quantitative. They had some 1,611 participants, who logged 9,974 entries, 15,738 media interactions and 7,955 hours of activity in Q2 2012.

Qualitative phase – This took place in LA, Boston and Austin and included mobile text diaries, in-home interviews and online bulletin boards.

Quantitative phase – A 24 hour diary of media interactions was kept by participants. They were then surveyed the day after for more in-depth information. An online survey was later given to “understand attitudes and behaviors associated with various digital activities, specifically multi-screen ones.

Participants were 18-64 in age for smartphone, TV and laptop usage. 41% reported using tablets.

If you wanted to extrapolate out the results with a margin of error, with an online population of about 230-250 million, it would be around 2.44%. Granted, there are probably less multi-screen users, but it’s most likely not that significant of a drop off.

 Sequential vs. Simultaneous

There are two major ways that people are using their multiple screens sequential and simultaneous. The more common usage pattern was sequential with smartphones generally being first and then the activity moving to another screen. In fact 90% of participants logged this type of activity. 98% do so in a single day to complete a task, as opposed to the activity being spread across two or more days.

Now, don’t go getting down on the simultaneous strategy because it was quite popular, but seemingly for a different purpose. 77% logged activity where they watched TV with another device at hand (I do it all the time personally). A lot of it, says Google, was search based on something seen on TV. I use mine as a way to not pay attention to commercials and do some light reading. I’m a multi-screen multi-tasker.

An example of my using multiple screens at once would be Falling Skies on TNT where I had the second screen app on my iPad, which is synced with the airing of the show to provide other interactions during commercial breaks. I bet the advertisers weren’t too keen on that idea. Still, it worked, I was duly engaged in it all.

So how does that apply to online video? Well, it’s probably a bit more difficult because communication between the devices is key for timing and our content is generally shorter in form, unless it’s TV or film being streamed. It does show that there is still room for tying second screen content into a good campaign or publishing schedule. For example, if you’ve got a connected TV app, you might also have a tablet or smartphone app. If a user is logging in, you should be able to track when they start viewing a piece of content and could offer them a second screen experience that is directly tied to that viewing. In that way you might be able to do some sort of content sync. I also think that this could really be beneficial to viewer engagement over time. But don’t forget those sequential users either. You could easily have some sort of call to action at the end of a piece of content for them to continue interacting with the brand, show, etc. through more second screen content.

We are All Zeros and Ones

I don’t know about you, but I’m a one, not a zero. Ha! Some digital humor. Anyway, in this research Google checked out the percentage of media interactions that involved more than one screen in general. They found that, not surprisingly, 90% of media interactions require a screen. Just 10% of the interactions that were logged were related to radio, newspaper and magazine.

Now, I have to believe that this data is skewed. Why? Because it was a digitally-based study. They entered log entries into a diary on their phone, they took online surveys, etc. Clearly, it’s a digitally savvy group that they were polling. I mean, 41% use tablets! I don’t think 41% of my friends use tablets. So these numbers have to be slightly skewed toward the digital realm.

Also, it seems that, the larger the screen, the more time spent per interaction. That makes sense to me. TV is still mostly a lean back activity so there’s a lot of lying on the couch watching it. Not so much with the others. I have been known to sit on the front porch with an icy cold adult beverage and read on my tablet, but it’s just because I have some books on there that I don’t have in print format. Those interactions can stretch to an hour or more. But then again, so can my Hulu sessions when I’m in hardcore catch up mode. Again, data from me might be even more skewed digitally because I don’t have pay TV.


How Much is Video?

So the big question for us is, how much of this equates to video viewing. The short answer is, there’s no short answer.

First off, for sequential users, 43% of the time they start a video on one device and move to another.

What that means, for online video publishers, is that both the experience and the content need to be optimized based on what screen is being used to view it. Also, the experience needs to be constant across the multiple screens. Make a note of that. Almost 50% say that they have started a video on one screen and then finished on another. So keeping the user experience constant across all screen formats seems like a major issue to me. Especially when the video is paused on one and picked up on another. I suppose that’s where personal accounts come into play. But the look and feel need to be consistent as well and, of course, we can’t forget about the quality.

Here’s a break down, by device, in regards to starting on one and ending on another.



It sure does not look like tablets are the destination for online video that we might have been lead to believe. They lag behind in being ‘go to’ devices for tablet viewing as well as starting points for video viewing. So then the question remains, what are we using tablets for? First off, remember that this is just about multi-screen usage and not about overall usage. Second, only 41% of participants stated they use a tablet.

Screen Switching Needs Search

A really interesting statistic from the research is related to search, because many stated they use it to get back to where they were on the previous screen. So again we go back to that fact that the experience should be the same on each device and now we see what I touched on earlier. We need to allow for place saving that works across devices.

It also means that SEO is of vital importance and the keywords need to match up across all three. This was quite possibly the most baffling statistic to me. Check it out.

It appears that most users in incapable of remembering what it was they were doing before they moved to the next device. However, video viewers, are most capable in that regard as they do it the least, or rather, it’s done the least in regards to watching a video.  Now you can see how important “keyword parity” as Google called it, really is. The keywords you use need to show up on searches from all devices and in all search engines. Good luck!

Then again, there were only 623 interactions of this nature in terms of video.

Now, I leave you with one final thing before. Something I think you’ll really enjoy. It’s the top activities during multi-screen usage. Why will you enjoy it? Because watching a video is last. Wait, wait, that’s not a bad thing. The way I interpret that is, when watching video, it’s uncommon to be using a second screen. That’s the silver lining here because, remember, this whole study was only about multi-screen usage. It means, again my interpretation, that people are generally engrossed in the content they’re watching.

So pat yourselves on the back you video publishers and creators. I’m done for the weekend, do go enjoy yourselves on this three day break, you deserve it.


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