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How Second Screening Is Now Second Nature

The use of a secondary device whilst watching television, commonly known as second screening, has become one of the most impactful ways for people to access information in recent years. Initially, interactive TV would come in the form of smart TVs, but the advent of smartphones means that TV is no longer the imperial voice of information and opinion that it once was. People now have the ability to challenge what they see and hear, as well as delve deeper into topics that pique their interest.

From a marketing perspective, second screening has added a powerful weapon that was costive to show its full potential in the early days of smartphone technology. It is supernumerary to discuss the impact of the smartphone upon the masses, but its impact on the way people behave whilst watching television has been profound. Smartphones allow people to indulge in additional activities while performing a primary task, and in many cases, this may involve browsing for products and services. The impact of television on the motivation for this activity has introduced a new means for search advertising to target consumers – by predicting or reacting to live programming – and the statistics behind second screen use show that this is no longer a new phenomenon that ‘may’ take off, but an established action that’s now fully embedded in consumer behaviour.

Why Has Second Screening Flourished?

Second screening would appear to be a strange phenomenon, as the division of attention would seemingly render the interaction with each data point less effective than if used in isolation. However, research has shown that people are surprisingly adept at this practice. As different technologies have emerged, we’ve developed the ability to focus our attention on both screens equally, provided the stimuli is not too engaging from either party.

The resultant effect on attention depends on the “cognitive load” of the task being performed on the second screen (i.e. the more complicated the task, the less likely users will be able to focus on both). A study conducted by scholars from Yonsei University in South Korea found that participants showed an increase in learning performance when using a second screen with a “medium-cognitive-load”.

Parameters for how attention currently strafes between transient attention (short term) and selective sustained attention (long term) are currently unclear, with researchers arguing over the approximate span of each in addition to the cognitive effort required to switch from one to another. However, research has shown that if the topics being explored are thematically linked the learning process may actually be improved, meaning that we are capable of taking in the information from multiple sources at the same time. Working memory, which to simplify helps selective sustained attention, is also linked to visual attention, meaning that the two are not mutually exclusive and do not “compete” for centre stage.

The relationship between these two forms of attention shows how second screening has risen to prominence, as it facilitates learning rather than hindering it. In other words, second screening has become such a major part of our lives because our brains are wired to cope with it, and actually benefit from it.  

How Is Second Screening Important For Marketers?

Statistics show just how integral a part of our lives second screening has become. The Consumer Barometer published by Google earlier this year reported that 76% of people go online with connected devices whilst watching television, and it is also interesting to note that 16% of people who used the internet concurrently whilst watching TV use it in relation to the programme that they were watching. This in turn means that roughly 12% of people watching television are accessing related content on a second screen.

Search is the most common action performed before a purchase, with 30% of consumers preferring this means of locating the relevant site or information, so it stands to reason that any consumers who have their interest piqued by something they have seen or heard on television may want to search for it on their laptop, tablet or phone. This instant convenience for consumers has undoubtedly been a driving force in second screening’s rapid rise.

Second screening is very useful for marketers too, as it allows them to condense the target segment based on pre-existing knowledge of a service or product. If a travel programme mentions an obscure but visually striking place, people are likely to search for more information if they have never heard of it before but are unlikely to immediately look for flights if they have no other information about the place to hand. Conversely, if someone has heard of the place before and its mention serves as a timely reminder, this could prompt a consumer to start searching for holidays to this destination.

This is why second screening has become such a powerful resource for marketers. A TV programme only needs to mention something and, if relevant to the person watching, the intrigue is often already present. The sales push doesn’t need to come in the form of TV ads; any mention will do. The job of the marketer from this point is to make sure that their service is the first one seen in search results, and understanding how to react to TV programming is key.

Just look at some examples we’ve noticed in research for our product mporium IMPACT, which identifies search spikes inspired by mentions on TV and delivers relevant ads depending on them.

The term ‘green curry’ was mentioned during an episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast back in December 2016. The episode began at 8pm and a spike was observed once the term was mentioned.

The term ‘Claim PPI’ was mentioned during an episode of The Martin Lewis Money Show in March 2017. After the term was mentioned, a significant search spike could be observed.

How Second Screening Is Now Second Nature | mporuim

So significant has second screening become now that the term mentioned on TV doesn’t need to match up directly with the term searched for. For example, the phrase ‘arriving in New Zealand’ was mentioned in an episode of Channel 4’s George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, and a significant spike was witnessed for the search term ‘New Zealand holidays’.

How Second Screening Is Now Second Nature | mporuim


Second screening is here to stay; there’s simply no question about that. Google has consistently been reluctant to release stats regarding average daily searches per person, but conservative estimates say that the average person conducts 540 Google searches in a year, and this excludes data from other search engines. Considering the multiplicitous volume of second screen searches performed, it’s simply no longer a question of if marketers should look into the opportunity, but how it’s explored.

How often do you find yourself second screening? What do you usually use it for? Start the conversation on Twitter @mporiumgroup.

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