In a study published last year, S. Adam Brasel and James Gips studied the behavior of TV use when a computer was also present:
Media Multitasking Behavior: Concurrent Television and Computer Usage - Brasel and Gips, published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Changes in the media landscape have made simultaneous usage of the computer and television increasingly commonplace, but little research has explored how individuals navigate this media multitasking environment. Prior work suggests that self-insight may be limited in media consumption and multitasking environments, reinforcing a rising need for direct observational research. A laboratory experiment recorded both younger and older individuals as they used a computer and television concurrently, multitasking across television and Internet content. Results show that individuals are attending primarily to the computer during media multi-tasking. Although gazes last longer on the computer when compared to the television, the overall distribution of gazes is strongly skewed toward very short gazes only a few seconds in duration. People switched between media at an extreme rate, averaging more than 4 switches per min and 120 switches over the 27.5-minute study exposure. Participants had little insight into their switching activity and recalled their switching behavior at an average of only 12 percent of their actual switching rate revealed in the objective data. Younger individuals switched more often than older individuals, but other individual differences such as stated multitasking preference and polychronicity had little effect on switching patterns or gaze duration. This overall pattern of results highlights the importance of exploring new media environments, such as the current drive toward media multitasking, and reinforces that self-monitoring, post hoc surveying, and lay theory may offer only limited insight into how individuals interact with media.
Scientists are good at burying the lede, and therefore left the biggest finding out of the abstract: 78.6% of the participants spent more than half of the time looking at the computer.
Personally, I find it unsurprising and not too interesting that people underestimate the number of times they switched from TV to PC or back: we naturally shift our view when doing most everything — walking down the street, driving a car, talking with friends — it’s almost autonomic. But the authors are obsessed with that angle, and make no effort to consider the implications of the most interesting finding.
Obviously, the rise of the second screen has enormous implications for TV, and the knee jerk response to findings like Brasel and Gips will be to try to get the eyes to stay on the TV. But the bigger opportunity lies in the second screen, where there is more interactivity and a world of social networks to share the experience with.