‘Simultaneous viewing’ may be taking toll on TV ratings, report suggests

Smartphone millennials

Nielsen and NFL executives wondering what the deal is with the continuing double-digit drops in primetime viewership of its games on broadcast TV, take heed. A new report from eMarketer finds that Americans are increasingly distracted by their second-screen viewing devices – think mobile phones and tablets – while watching television.

Image: eMarketer Multiscreen Usage Roundup, Oct. 2016
In its latest Multiscreen Usage Roundup (pdf), eMarketer said that 183 million U.S. residents use the internet while watching TV at least once a month, or about 80.3 percent of all internet users in the country. Most of that viewing takes place on smartphones, and a great deal of the content being viewed is not related to what’s on TV at all.

Only about a quarter of “simultaneous users” are viewing content related to what’s on TV – whether that’s a football game, a primetime TV show or movie on the big screen.

“Americans’ TV time is becoming increasingly distracted at a time when cord-cutting is already accelerating. This year, the number of cord-cutters will grow 15.7%, causing the number of pay TV viewers to drop 0.6% from last year. That means this year, the US will lose 1.3 million pay TV viewers.”

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The key strategy for providers and advertisers, eMarketer says, is to exploit this distraction. Instead of fretting about attention shifting away from the TV screen, content providers and advertisers could work in tandem to tempt viewers to perform tasks on their smartphones related to TV content, such as “encouraging consumers to make a purchase within minutes of seeing a TV commercial,” said Marcus Johnson, a forecasting analyst with eMarketer. “As ads become more targeted, viewers will be more likely to act on them in the moment because of their relevance to the TV program they are watching.”

The decline is not too precipitous yet, however. The study found that the amount of time that U.S. adults spend watching TV only dropped 2.1 percent in the past year, to an average of 4:05 hours per day. But that’s expected to fall another 10 minutes, to 3:55, by 2018.

By 2018, pay-TV viewer growth will decline by 1 percent, the study said.

And adults still spend 78.4 percent of their viewing time watching the big TV screen in the living room – giving advertisers ample opportunity to test their multiscreen advertising ideas.

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