In Data and Insights

Connecting Consumers Across Small and Big Screens: The Phenomenon of Second Screen Usage Connected to the Big-Screen TV Experience

In this cross-platform media environment, we need to remember to distinguish screens from devices as well as acknowledge how consumers use different screens simultaneouslyas shown in Verto’s recent study with Snap Inc.

Among media companies, content producers, and researchers like us at Verto Analytics, one of the big themes over the past decade has been what we in the industry typically call “cross-platform media consumption.” This refers to the idea that we, as consumers, are accessing a wide variety of audio and video media content using a multitude of screens. Back in the day, we did all this through our TV set—just one screen—which was typically used by many members of a single household. No personalization, no other screens available for watching any form of video content (within the house).

Even as late as early this millennium, even the most advanced smartphones were, at best, equipping us with simple web browsing capabilities, email access, and early versions of mobile productivity apps, etc. They were not entertainment devices. You did not really use your mobile device to watch YouTube, live sports, or any other type of media content—not yet, anyway.

That all changed over the past 15 years, since modern Android- and iOS-powered smart devices have racked up penetration and introduced user interfaces, apps, and bigger screens through which users can enjoy entertainment on other devices besides their home’s main TV screen. At the same time, streaming services from traditional media companies such as Fox, Disney, and BBC—and the new breed of internet-era media giants such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime—have become available through old-school PCs. Desktop PC video services typically work through web browsers as opposed to the video content apps on mobile devices. 

This overall trend to adopt new devices and screens has led consumers to use multiple screens to consume entertainment content. This is what we call “cross-platform media consumption.”

I intentionally use the word “screen” above rather than just “device”—because we cannot easily connect a single device (CPU) to a single screen any more. At the same time, a screen still defines unambiguously how video content is consumed, but that content might end up on that screen because of one or more devices working in connection to that main screen used for watching—retrieving, transmitting, rendering, casting, and distributing the video signal.

For example, while a viewer might be watching a Formula One GP1 race from Austria on their giant smart TV at home, how the actual video content reached that screen might have been through cable or terrestrial TV broadcast, with the Samsung built-in tuner delivering the video. Or maybe through a smart TV app. Or maybe through a separate media/satellite/digital TV box from the viewer’s TV company. Or maybe it was cast from the user’s F1 mobile app to the screen. So, again, while the smart TV is the viewer’s screen of choice for this content, different devices were integral to the viewing experience.

People are increasingly using many screens and devices. The old-school hub TVs were more about potential shared use and co-viewing, and were tied to the home. New smart screens, on the other hand, add more personal characteristics, and the viewing context might be anywhere from the living room to the kitchen to the bedroom, or from your daily commute (in the bus or train) to the office. This fact holds many key implications in terms of how both content producers and advertisers need to consider the user experience, business models, and revenue models. One can basically reach consumers on multiple screens, and new devices/screens and cross-platform (content or ad) targeting can be used to reach more people, across more time slots, than the single-screen focus. 

We have specifically outlined how the big-screen TV is being complemented (and, in some cases, competed against) by new, smart, smaller screens—all starting with the rise of video streaming over the internet and the introduction of new smart devices. However, one of the important things to notice is that not only are consumers cross-platform, they are also “multi-taskers”: They engage on multiple screens at the same time. So, instead of gaining incremental reach or incremental time spent, one can actually engage with the consumer who is using two or more screens at the same time! Doing so, however, is not so simple. We need to understand and take advantage of the ways people use these screens at the same time, and how each can potentially amplify the overall user experience. Typically, for example, one screen is for reacting and exploring content (outbound); the other is for viewing and learning content (inbound).

We call this overall phenomenon “second screen usage,” and it is part of an overall trend of consumers engaging on multiple devices and screens simultaneously. We at Verto have spoken about second screen usage for a long time at ARF and CIMM conferences, and have conducted some studies on it (for example, in the UK, with Oath, using Verto surveys and our single-source online measurement panel, and, more recently this year, with Snap Inc. in the U.S.) In some of our earlier studies we were talking about how online screens add to the TV audience—creating incremental additional eyeballs, time spent—and making the case to advertisers that, by investing in online advertising, one can reach more new people (and the same people) at new and different times than with TV alone.

Second screen usage, however, is all about simultaneous viewing on many screens or using digital devices while also watching TV. As an example (and most typically), consumers might use their smartphone to share thoughts or feelings on social media about the content they watch on TV; they might look for more information about the content or brands they see on TV; they might explore TV programming schedules; or they might simply do something different—for example, check on news while more passively watching some sports or documentaries on the big-screen TV. Nowadays, viewers can also control their big-screen TV with their smartphone, such as through screen casting. Consumers’  smart devices at home are increasingly connected to and interwoven with their big-screen TV experience. 

In a Verto Analytics study this spring with Snap Inc., our researchers set out to use our single-source media measurement panel, with passive behavioral measurement, to understand how people use mobile devices when they watch TV. 

In this study with Snap, we studied how people used Snapchat and many other social media apps during the live airing of Super Bowl 2020—and analyzed what people did with their primary smartphone, both during live action and the ad breaks. Many apps, including Snapchat, aim to bridge the gap and bring sports content and camaraderie to fans, no matter where they’re watching the game, and on which screen. 

Our study uncovered several interesting observations, including:

  1. The craving for sports content was also seen on Snapchat—time spent watching Snapchat Shows has been higher than ever.
  2. While watching major sporting events from the stadium isn’t an option, we’re still seeing sustained engagement with sports-related content.
  3. Fans are beyond excited for the NFL’s 101st year, which means this season will be a momentous occasion for brands to bring the fan experience to the Snapchat Generation.

This joint study between Verto and Snap aimed to help marketers understand (with empirical behavioral evidence) that they need to adapt their strategies to reach fans in the context of how they’ll be watching games—also using second screen advertising.

We found that using Snapchat is integral to how Snapchat’s community experiences live sports. Snapchat is used most frequently for sharing reactions and communicating with fellow fans throughout the game and catching up on what they’d missed. 

This work also uncovered that Snapchatters aged 18 to 23 are more likely to share their reactions to the game and communicate with their friends than non-Snapchatters using other social platforms. We also concluded that Snapchat usage over-indexed when exciting live moments took place during the game (see below) rather than during commercial breaks—reinforcing that fans experience the biggest moments in sports together on Snapchat.

By quantifying how second screen usage happens and why, advertisers and content producers might begin to see the potential benefit of pursuing strategies that take advantage of it. In this study with Snap, we found out about the ways people use Snapchat connected to Super Bowl watching. We saw that Snapchat works as a powerful machine to amplify and extend the mere TV experience.

This being just one example, we encourage everyone to acknowledge new smart screens and computers—not only to add to the potential reach or time spent with consumers, against TV, but potentially to use these screens (with services, apps, or advertising) to amplify or better leverage the mere TV experience!

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