TiVo: Multitasking TV viewers more engaged than you think

Michelle Clancy | 24-01-2014

While we may all occasionally check our phones or emails, or post a status update or two while watching TV, most of us are actually actively watching TV programming when the sets are on, according to TiVo's 2013 Social Media and Multitasking Survey.

Much has been made of multitasking-related attention fragmentation in TV viewers, i.e., the disengagement of consumers from the primary activity (watching television and consuming ads) because of mobile device and second-screen use. However, it turns out that even though many viewers report having multitasked at least once while watching TV by, for example, browsing the Internet (69%), cooking (48%) or chatting online (23%) more than three-quarters (76%) of people surveyed report their primary focus is actually watching what's on TV. In fact, more than 45% of TiVo users and 35% of non-TiVo users said their attention was directed only towards TV, and not to anything else, while watching.

Among those who report multitasking while watching TV, smartphones are used most frequently (61%), with portable gaming systems used least frequently (6%). However, slightly less than a quarter (24%) of respondents report using smartphones every time or almost every time they watch TV.

Though many respondents report using the Internet to find content related to their favourite shows, only 27% said they do so while actually watching those programmes. Rather, online activity more often occurs after watching a programme: 14% report turning to the Internet immediately after watching and 32% search for related TV content on the Internet sometime during the following week.

Additionally, the survey found most TV viewers are not turning out in droves to use Internet forums like those set up by networks and the shows themselves to discuss programmes: 61% of TiVo users and 55% of non-TiVo users said that they only want to discuss TV with people they know (i.e. via social networks), not with Internet strangers.

With more networks and specific shows encouraging viewers to live tweet or follow along with Twitter conversations via hashtags, 68% of respondents who are TiVo users said they actually notice TV hashtags. That said, of those TiVo users who notice hashtags, 63% said they don't like seeing them during shows, while only 3% said they liked seeing hashtags.

There's also evidence that there are limits to what the human brain can handle: some shows practically demand viewers' full attention due to complex plot twists or dialogue. In fact, 73% of survey respondents agree that "there are certain shows that are so important to me or so tricky to follow, I make sure not to do other things while I am watching them."

And, a quarter of all viewers reported actively avoiding the Internet until they have watched certain episodes, to ensure missing spoilers like which participants were voted off the island or fired.