Hill Holliday and SecondScreen Networks set up a study to find out how they might sunchronize the head shifting that goes along with the ‘swarm of devices’ style of TV use that goes on these days, given the emergence of the second screen:
When people are in front of the TV, they don’t just watch TV.
The pioneering Middletown Media Study conducted in the pre-iPhone and pre-iPad era of 2005 showed that, at the time, 28.5% of 240.9 daily TV viewing minutes were accompanied by exposure to at least one other medium. (Talking on the phone and texting were the most frequent sources of interruption). In addition, about half of all TV minutes were accompanied by non-media life activities, such as caring for others, eating and cleaning.
The competition for TV viewer’s attention has hardly subsided. Since the study, smartphone penetration in the US soared from 3.8% in 2006 to 44% by the end of 2011. Today, for many tablet and smartphone owners (45% and 41%, respectively) using their mobile device while watching TV is a daily activity.
For any advertiser, these numbers lead to a natural question: What happens to my TV ads?
Having failed to locate a ready answer, we decided to find out for ourselves. We partnered with SecondScreen Networks, a company that sells mobile ads synchronized to what’s playing on the TV, to set up an experiment. Our formal objective was to understand the effect of advertising on a secondary screen during concurrent content consumption of television and mobile content.
They rigged up an experiment with three scenarios: 1/ no phone in hand, 2/ a phone in hand showing unsynchronized ‘ads’, and 3/ phone in hand that syncs an ad with a trailer running on the TV.
They discovered that the first scenario had higher recall and preference rates: on average 17% higher recall and 12% higher preference than the two-screen groups.
But — and this is the suggestive aspect of the experiment — the synced second screen scenario brought the preference rates up over the unsynced second screen scenario: back up 15%. Recall was lower but people are less unsettled by the second screen.
As Vedrashko tells it:
If independently confirmed, these findings could mean a couple of things. One is that TV advertisers will be looking for ways to compensate for the drop in TV ad effectiveness caused by TV-mobile multitasking either by dialing up frequency or by putting up two-screen roadblocks with the help of companies such as SecondScreen Networks.
Secondly, ads that invite viewers to engage with a smartphone right away – shazam it! scan this QR code! – might be ruining it for the next ad in the pod. The playing field of a commercial break is already uneven: an emotionally impactful ad will carry viewer’s thought way beyond the allotted 30 seconds. By getting people to fumble with their smartphones, an ad essentially makes viewers tune the TV out for the duration of the exercise.
Looks like synchronization of second screen ads is going to be worthy of more research.