Study: phones distract from TV, but ads in sync boost recall

By Natan Edelsburg 

Hill Holliday and SecondScreen Networks recently partnered to conduct a survey on the role a smartphone (the second screen) plays in one’s attention to TV commercials. With smartphone penetration in the U.S. at 44% by the end of 2011, they set to figure out how the second screen is affecting the thirty second spot that still drives the TV business. Not surprisingly they found that when viewers, “fiddled with their phones while watching TV; they were less likely to remember or like the TV content than when the TV was the only medium.”

The study aims to show that Shazam, IntoNow, GetGlue and any other app that might require any actions besides staring at your smartphone might be counterproductive to an advertiser’s goal. The study continues that, “when we put an ad on the mobile phone people were looking at, their recall of the TV content was still lower compared to the no-phone-at-all scenario, but their preference rates went back almost all the way up,” to when they weren’t using a second screen at all.

“The main highlight from the study was that if the consumer is seeing an ad on TV and a different ad on smartphone, both the spot and the digital ad are less effective,” Seth Tapper, CEO of SecondScreen Networks told Lost Remote. “When both ads are in sync in real-time, however, they are most effective,” he added.

“For us, it means a couple of things,” Ilya Vedrashko, SVP of R&D at Hill Holliday told Lost Remote. “One is that TV advertisers will be looking for ways to compensate for the drop in TV ad effectiveness caused by TV-mobile multitasking,” he described. He added that, “secondly, ads that invite viewers to engage with a smartphone right away – shazam it! scan this QR code! – might be ruining it for the next ad in the pod by encouraging viewers to tune out the TV.” Social TV book author and Hill Holliday SVP Mike Proulx added that, “the one absolutely critical thing that has yet to be figured out on the second screen is what content will actually draw audiences of scale to these apps.”

I’m skeptical that any multitasking with tablets, while actually watching TV and not just having it on in the background will ever be more than a tweet or glance at your email.