Usage of second (and third, and sometimes fourth) screens while viewers are watching TV is accelerating at an exponential rate. What effects does this have on viewers’ attention to the first screen, especially during traditional TV commercial breaks? During Q1 of 2014, Zenith Media partnered with Turner Networks and Innerscope Research to investigate the issue.
The lab work conducted in partnership with Turner uncovered that people are much more likely to look at their second screens during commercials than during program content—more than twice as much time is spent second-screening during ads vs. shows. A more relevant and actionable measure is to look at what creates ‘Snapback’—the immediate switching of attention from the second screen back to the first—during commercial breaks and programming. However, Snapback is also more likely to occur during ad periods.
According to the Zenith/Turner/Innerscope Neuroscience Study, time spent by viewers using the second screen during shows was 22%, and that number more than doubled to 47% during ads.
The Snapbacks figure hit .62 times per minute during shows. During ads, that number climbed to .72 times per minute.
According to the Snapback metric, the average number of times per minute a person looks back at the TV while second screening is 22% higher during ads.
We saw in the lab work that variability made a big difference in where people’s attention went—when there was a lot of action in the program, the eyes stayed on the first screen; when people got bored or got a notification, attention migrated to the second screen; and then major changes, especially in audio, tended to be what caused people to Snapback to the TV.
Specifically, these were some of the commercial characteristics that got viewers to look back up at the TV. Repetitive sounds, like the GEICO “Hump Day” commercial, created a lot of Snapback (you know, the “Mike, Mike, Mike! Do you know what day it is?” ad). Familiar voices or voiceovers tended to cause people to look up. Music was a strong driver of Snapback, as well as the tone or placement of the ad. In general, audio cues are key to driving Snapback.
Snapback was not flat across all program genres—we found significant differences in the ability to pull viewers’ attention back from the second screen depending on the program genre that was airing, with sports having the highest Snapback potential and comedy shows the lowest.
Interestingly, this research suggests that second-screening might actually be improving ad impact in certain circumstances by keeping emotions high. Viewers were spending the most time on their second screen when emotional resonance with the first screen show content was highest. Emotional resonance combines several biometric tracking measures, including heart rate and galvanic skin response (sweat). There is a 73% correlation between the emotional resonance and second-screen usage. We can’t assume which one causes the other, but there is certainly a significant relationship between the two—in other words, do people second-screen because their emotions are high, or are their emotions high because they’re second-screening?
To take this a step further, we pursued more extensive research to show that as this emotional-resonance metric increases, ad receptivity improves proportionally. So it is fair to say that second-screening creates an emotionally primed viewer who will be more receptive to an advertising message if we are able to successfully pull attention back to the TV screen.
There are clearly some creative implications here. If your target audience is known to be heavy second-screeners, it’s going to be important that your creative has some stand-out audio cues to increase the likelihood that they will be exposed to the ad. But we also see some potential media implications as well. Finding those environments that increase emotional response will prime an audience for an ad. Because second-screening appears to exacerbate that effect, this may be another metric we can use for finding emotionally primed consumers.