TV-Smartphone Combo Dominates Multiscreen Consumption

Google study looks at sequential and complementary use cases

When consumers are watching TV, they’re most likely also checking email on their smartphones. That line’s become a fixture at industry conferences to the point of cliche, but it's true. When consumers are watching TV, 77 percent of the time they have another device in hand and 49 percent of that time it’s a smartphone. To boot, 60 percent of the time consumers are juggling multiple devices they’re using email. Those stats come from a study of 1,611 adults conducted by Google with Sterling Brands and Ipsos during the second quarter.

The TV-smartphone combo is the most popularly cited multiscreen pair, and the study only supports that notion. Eighty-one percent of respondents said when they multiscreen, it’s with their TV and smartphone. For what it’s worth, 66 percent said they go with the smartphone-computer or TV-computer pairings.

Email may be the most popular activity consumers perform when two devices are fired up at the same time–60 percent of respondents said as much—but that’s not exactly an ad-friendly channel. No worries. Internet browsing ranked second at 44 percent, trailed by social networking at 42 percent, gaming at 25 percent and searching at 23 percent. All four offer an in to advertisers, and Google head of global mobile sales and strategy Jason Spero said that “marketers need to pay attention” to consumers’ multiscreen behaviors.

“If I were to oversimplify, I would say that a direct-response advertiser cannot ignore the sequential use of devices because it’s a direct effect on how we shop and how we purchase,” said Spero. “A brand advertiser—and many, many, many brand advertisers spend on TV—can’t ignore how the connected device is being used to complement TV.”

Spero’s referring to the two ways consumers use multiple devices: sequential and complementary. Are they watching a show on TV and seeing what folks are saying about it on Twitter? Or are they checking out a game on the big screen while playing one on their smartphone?

The latter—by far. Seventy-eight percent of the time the study’s participants were doing one thing on one device and something else on the other. In those cases, the stereotypical TV-smartphone combo isn’t actually the most popular pairing. Sure, 90 percent of the study’s participants said they simultaneously use their TV and smartphone, but 92 percent of them said as much when the combo was TV-computer and also for computer-smartphone. The TV-tablet pairing also held its own at 89 percent. But sometimes—22 percent of the time—when consumers are pinballing between devices, the activity is complementary, like watching a show on TV and checking their smartphone to see what people are tweeting about it. In those cases, 40 percent of respondents said they opt for the TV-tablet duo, 36 percent for PC-smartphone, 35 percent for TV-smartphone and 32 percent for TV-PC.

However, consumers don’t just juggle devices simultaneously; they also swap sequentially. In fact, 90 percent of respondents said they’ll start an activity on one device then switch to another or more to finish it. Browsing the Internet topped the list of most popular multiscreen, sequential activities at 81 percent, followed by social networking at 72 percent, online shopping at 67 percent and searching at 63 percent. In all four categories, when consumers started a sequential activity, it was most often initiated on a smartphone and then continued on a computer. In the most common example, 65 percent of respondents said they started a search on their smartphone, and 60 percent said they continued that search on their computer, whereas only 4 percent said they continued it on their tablet.

Not that the smartphone is the gateway to all things Internet. Thirty-eight percent said they started planning a trip on their computer (alas 31 percent continued that planning on their smartphone versus 7 percent on their tablet), and 15 percent began plotting their travels on their tablet, with 14 percent continuing to do so on their computer as opposed to 1 percent continuing on their smartphone.

TVs may most often operate in the background, though they can also spur action, of the search variety (this is a Google study after all). When users conducted a search on their computers, 10 percent said it was prompted by seeing something on TV. That number rose to 22 percent for searches conducted on smartphones.