It takes focus to watch TV in a multiscreen world

I've always considered myself to be a focused kind of guy. I worked in newspapers in the days when newsrooms were filled with reporters talking on the phone and clattering on keyboards and just generally causing a hum that occasionally rose to a buzz that occasionally revved to a dull roar.

I've managed to strike a golf ball when a playing partner rudely accepted a phone call--and began a discussion--with a family member while standing right next to me. And, much to my credit, I only hit the ball, not the playing partner.

Focus has never been an issue for me.

So I was a little surprised the other night to find myself surfing the Web while simultaneously watching the sometimes painfully slow "Parade's End" on HBO. The surprise was not so much that I was surfing the Web--after all, isn't that what the second screen is all about?--rather, it was that I was doing it during the program, and not during a commercial break.

I realized I had lost my train of thought when I had to rewind the program (thank goodness for DVRs) to pick up a detail that had eluded me as I looked for a new golf club online. It was like waking from one of those brief catnaps that occasionally happen--close your eyes for a second and wake up three minutes later with a gap in the storyline--only I was awake, just not focused on the primary target.

My transgression, in addition to annoying me because I hate to rewind to track the story line, made me wonder what people with less focus than I are seeing when they sit down to watch television and whether the whole lean back experience has, at last, been co-opted by a lean forward experience that demeans, to an extent, the value of the programming. More so, I was wondering what those in charge of developing, selling and presenting the content must be thinking these days if someone as focused as myself allows his focus to be distracted by online temptation.

Eyes have always wandered--as have feet and other body parts--during commercials. That's a given, and it's a reason advertisers have worked hard to make their brief moments in the spotlight memorable and watchable. But my lapse came during a commercial-free production of a program that required ultimate focus just to keep track of the storyline. I'm not positive that it wouldn't have happened had my tablet not been blinking at my side, beckoning me to the temptations it held, but I'm pretty sure it would have been less likely.

It will be interesting to see if service providers, only now delving deeply into the interactive/multiscreen TV space, will try to find a way to bring detoured viewers back onto the path or will accept the loss of eyeballs to the primary content source and attempt to point them in the direction of paid advertising, essentially trying to make a buck off an increasingly distracted viewing public.

One thing is certain: There should be added emphasis on the benefits of the DVR when selling a multiscreen service. Without it, you'll never know what's going on. -Jim