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Summary:

About 40 percent of people use TV and the web at the same time each week, and users spend about 4 percent of their TV time surfing the web, according to Nielsen. But chances are, they’re not surfing topics related to what they’re watching on TV.

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It’s no big surprise that more and more people are surfing the web while watching TV than ever. About 40 percent of people use TV and the web at the same time each week, and those users spend about four percent of their TV time surfing the web, according to research from Nielsen.

But contrary to popular opinion, what they’re surfing online often has nothing to do with what’s on the TV. That is, people watching the Oscars with their laptops open aren’t necessarily on the Oscars.com website. In fact, very few of them are. Nielsen estimates that about 20 percent of Oscars viewers were online during the awards show, but only about 12 percent of those simultaneously surfing and watching the show were visiting Oscar-related sites. Similarly, during the Olympics only about 14 percent of simultaneous viewers were on sports sites, and during the Haiti earthquake coverage only about 18 percent of simultaneous viewers were tuned in to news sites.

So what were those viewers doing with their laptops while watching TV? The same stuff they usually do, even when the TV set is off: check email, chat with their friends and shop online, according to Nielsen. The one thing they don’t like to do when the TV is on is watch video sites like YouTube, because they could be a “distraction” to the TV viewing experience.

The key takeaway here is that marketers who want to cash in on this simultaneous viewing phenomenon, by trying to attract TV viewers who are also online, might have their energy better spent on other things, as there’s little evidence to suggest that the vast majority of simultaneous viewers are interested in Internet sites related to the programs they’re watching.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Marketing (subscription required)

  1. But I wonder if advertisers have given TV viewers something worth coming to the show’s website while watching the show. Take Tosh.O for example. As the show is pre-recorded, the show host chats with viewers during the show. Has any other TV show done likewise? Has Glee had a cast member be on the show’s website chatting with fans while the show airs and rotating the cast member each week? If there’s nothing special about being on the show’s website while the show is playing, there’s no reason for fans to be at it while it is.

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  2. From personal experience, this makes perfect sense. I surf when I am not fully invested in the show that is currently on. A VH1 reality show doesn’t need my undivided attention. And while might take a quick trip over to IMDB to see what that 80s child star has done for the last decade, I won’t spend a lot of my online time thinking about this show I am only half-watching.

    On the other side, when I’m fully invested in the show, I’m not likely to be online at all. Too busy watching. A special case could be made for something that is built around audience participation such as American Idol. It feels like a hard sell for a scripted show like Glee.

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