The Modern Multitasker: 94% Watch TV With a Smartphone Nearby

Facebook recently commissioned an in-home study on how people watch television, finding that 94 percent have their smartphone close at hand while watching TV. Half the time (47 percent) people aren’t looking at the TV, and one of the main reasons they look away is to interact with their phone.

People are mostly likely to look away during ad breaks, using the phone as a quick source of entertainment when they can’t skip commercials. That data came from an eye-tracking study by Swedish company Tobii Pro, which used special glasses to determine exactly where subjects were looking.

Facebook combined that data with research on its own network, finding that use of the social network spiked during commercials for people who indicated they were watching a popular drama on cable. During some breaks Facebook use rose by three times. Of those who use a phone while watching TV, 70 percent say they do so to stay connected with friends, while 51 percent are trying to avoid being bored.

For study participants who watched TV shows with commercials, one-third looked away during ad breaks—usually 2.5 seconds into the first ad. These people turned to their phones three-quarters of the time.

Even if people aren’t looking at their TV, they can still hear it. Facebook recommends advertisers think about the audio on their spots, making it as “engaging and memorable” as possible.

“The captive attention on which television marketers once relied no longer exists,” says Mike Bartels, senior research director for Tobii Pro. “The constant stream of distractions has made it harder for advertisers to know what content engages an audience and what is ignored. As revealed through the study Tobii Pro conducted for Facebook, eye tracking provides marketers with unbiased, accurate insight on what commercials need to have to be more compelling and relevant to the public.”



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