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How to Manage Digital and TV Multitasking

  |  April 5, 2012   |  Comments

While digital content and online ads may be benefiting from increased viewing time, how much are viewers actually seeing?

Social, mobile, online video, and pins. There are so many reasons for consumers to forgo TV for the web. That's why it gives me a start to hear that nearly one in three U.S. households owns four TVs or more. Four!

It's difficult to reconcile that statistic with everything we know about the rise of digital media - the countless hours spent engaging with the Internet, the increased sales of iPads, Kindles, and Nooks. But there's a simple explanation for it all: concurrent media usage. Otherwise known as multitasking.

The trend isn't new. Years ago I attended a conference on media usage that presented ethnographic data from a nationwide consumer survey. At the time, 60 percent of web usage was conducted simultaneously with TV, and researchers were recording concurrent TV and web usage of 300 minutes per week.

That was in 2004.

Today, thanks in large part to advancements in mobile media, that number is through the roof. In a study conducted by Yahoo and Razorfish, 80 percent of respondents admitted to multitasking with mobile devices while watching TV. Sixty-eight percent multitasked with a laptop or desktop daily, and 60 percent of mobile users checked their device at least once per TV show. But here's where things get interesting to media buyers: 38 percent of those same consumers agreed or strongly agreed that multitasking both enhances the TV viewing experience and proves distracting.

That one word - distracting - is what should stand out. For digital marketers, it's a game-changer. Plenty of people will tell you this balance between TV and the web is a marvelous thing because instead of pitting the two against each other, it makes us partners in our quest to attract users. Everybody wins…right? But while digital content and online ads may be benefiting from increased viewing time, how much are viewers actually seeing? And are they retaining what they do see?

If you ask the experts on emerging technology and neurological science, you'll find that multitasking may not be as advantageous as we think. While consumers do have the ability to form "many quick thoughts in succession," activities done without focus are generally of a lower quality. Put another way, this means that the attention our online content is getting from TV viewers could be severely diluted, and requires a unique strategy for success.

Keep online and offline content consistent. Nielsen reports that in Q3 2011, 19 percent of smartphone and tablet users employed their devices to seek out information related to a commercial they watched on TV. By referencing TV ad content online and presenting a seamless brand experience, marketers can leverage this behavioral trend.

Buy on social sites. Through its own surveys, Ipsos MediaCT has found that 57 percent of multitasking consumers visit a social network while watching TV. Media buyers who invest in social media ads that reference their television presence stand a good chance of engaging these users once they're on the web.

Lead them where you want them to go. Instead of leaving consumers to their own devices, use your TV ads to incite an online action. Point viewers to your Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Pinterest boards, or entice them with directions to an online contest or exciting new app. Giving them an end point will help to focus them, and add value to their online visit.

TV appears to be here to stay. Instead of working against it, make it work for your brand.


Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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