Using smartphones and tablets as second screens while watching television has become commonplace, Nielsen reported last week, with 88 percent of U.S. tablet owners and 86 percent of U.S. smartphone owners saying they've used the devices while watching television at least once in the past month.
And, while "once a month" may seem happenstance, Nielsen said 69 percent of tablet owners use two screens simultaneously regularly each week, with a quarter of them using two screens several times a week, and 26 percent use more than a single screen several times a day. Usage patterns for smartphones follow a similar model.
And, while there are plenty of users who are simply using the second screen as a way to check email or to graze news stories, U.K. marketing agency Digital Clarity found that 80 percent of the people under the age of 25 that it surveyed said they use the devices to communicate with friends while watching TV, and a whopping 72 percent said they use Facebook and Twitter to comment on the shows while viewing.
"TV shows with small audiences can generate enormous traffic on Twitter," said Digital Clarity's founder, Reggie James. "Social TV is a new platform for engaging with a TV show and has turned TV programs into online events."
Robin Sloan, the head of Twitter's media partnership team, said there are marked spikes of usage during major sporting events, soap operas and reality shows.
"It's remarkable because the Twitter conversation will be going along a few tweets here and there, and as soon as a new episode premieres or the Oscars start or a game kicks off, the tweets per minute skyrocket, and we see it multiply 10, 20, 50 times, and it stays like this until the show ends," Sloan said. "People like to talk about this stuff as it is happening, which is sort of counter-intuitive because a lot of folks are talking about time shifting and everything being on-demand. At this stage (TV executives) are primarily using Twitter to engage their existing audience and give them something to talk about. Our goal is to get Twitter integrated into TV shows."
Social TV, obviously, is moving into the mainstream. And, while that usage currently is more often a continuous stream of disconnected conversations between viewers of a show, or a simple check-ins to a program they're watching, media companies are developing new ways to take advantage of that heightened level of engagement among loyal viewers.
Television, of course, has always created community, whether it's a chat around the water cooler about the latest episode of Homeland, or that high five around the neighborhood bar after the home team scores the winning run. Social TV is simply a technological extension of that, and it has the potential to be a powerful force.
Broadcasters and content owners are increasingly embracing social TV as one more tool to help them build a new television model that draws viewers in more deeply. FierceIPTV took a deeper look at the trend in a new eBook, "The Coming Age of Social TV," that's available to download at no charge here. Hope you enjoy it.--Jim
P.S. At NAB next week, I'll be hosting a Tuesday breakfast panel that takes a look at the opportunity and unanswered questions surrounding the booming growth of connected TVs. The panel is stellar, and includes Google's Irv Kalick, principal of Google's business development group; GW Shaw, AT&T's VP of U-verse marketing; Fox Broadcasting's VP of Innovation Hardie Tankersley; the UFC's VP Digital, Technology Research & Development, Christy King; KIT Digital's COO Alex Blum; and Turner Broadcasting's VP of advanced video, Don Loheide. You can find more information on the panel here. Hope to see you there.