A study commissioned by Facebook IQ found that 94% of US TV viewers kept a smartphone close by while viewing television, making it nearly ubiquitous. This is important because it means that media multitasking, i.e., using both the TV and the smartphone to consume content, is happening nearly simultaneously.
The Facebook study was run in four US cities. A hundred participants were asked to wear eye-tracking glasses, and Facebook IQ analyzed the data from those that chose to view TV. The glasses tracked viewers' eye movements, and found that on average they were solely focused on the TV screen for about half the time (53%) they viewed the program.
The remaining 47% of their time was spent performing housekeeping tasks such as folding laundry and cooking dinner. These were followed by usage of smartphones, laptops and other devices. As you would imagine, commercial breaks were when disengagement from the TV content peaked. Facebook's research found that on average, those viewing a TV ad "disengaged during a third of the commercial breaks, usually about 2.5 seconds into the first ad. And three-quarters of the time, people who disengaged from the TV ad content turned to their smartphones."
In a prior study, Facebook analyzed data from 1 million Facebook users while they were viewing the premiere of a popular cable TV drama, and found that smartphone usage could ramp up as much as three times during ad breaks.
Facebook's research has found that millennials (18-34) spent more time using mobile devices last year than viewing TV. It also found that light TV viewers are likely to be younger (with an average age of 27) than heavy viewers (with an average age of 48).
Facebook argues that the best solution for advertisers now is to deliver targeted video advertising synchronized with the TV commercial on Facebook and Instagram. It also recommends focusing more on the audio component of the commercial as viewers will still be listening to the audio even if they are looking elsewhere.
The second argument makes sense, but I'm not so sure about the first. Viewers are more likely to be scanning their Facebook page because they are disengaged from the commercial. Putting it on Facebook is unlikely to suddenly engage them, even if there is a (not always successful) attempt to make it more targeted and relevant.
However, related text and graphics content on the Facebook page might work, because a quick scan is probably what fits better with the mindset of the viewer at that time. And if there is a connection with the TV audio, it might even drive viewers to look at the TV commercial, though that does sound a bit optimistic.
The logistics for this are complex -- being able to determine which ad is playing when, what kind of targeted message works and even how it will affect the channel's ability to sell in advertising. For example, if a viewer is engaged with the first commercial in the pod, then he/she is not going to pay attention to the next one. That advertiser will not be keen to pay the same amount as the first, or may not want to buy the slot at all.
Ultimately, I think we have all known for decades that viewers disengage during commercial breaks, but TV advertising continues to rack up billions of dollars. Upfront sales this year were estimated to bring in $9 billion for broadcasters, for example. And even Facebook's study found that viewers were more likely to be folding laundry and cooking dinner than using their smartphone while viewing TV -- tasks they have been performing long before smartphones and the Internet were even invented.
It's important to remember this because, from an advertiser's point of view, maybe this behavior isn't that disruptive. In a sense, smartphone usage is just replacing short errands or having a conversation with a family member -- and not necessarily affecting viewing of a TV commercial. That distraction has been factored in by advertisers, it's just seen as a limitation of a medium that they believe still delivers value for them regardless. (See Broadcast Still Pulls in Advertising Dollars.)
Broadcast advertising has been described as "spray and pray" -- just get your message on the air and hope for the best. And in aggregate, it appears to have worked because advertisers keep coming back to it despite a broad range of alternatives. Perhaps that can't be sustained for much longer, with newer behaviors and viewership shifts, but advertisers have proven to be stubbornly loyal to the 30-second TV commercial. Change will come slowly, and only when the benefits of alternatives are clear and substantial, and the business and technological requirements across an unwieldy value chain have been ironed out.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation