Media Multi-Tasking And The Battle For Attention

The average amount of time that people give to some media platforms is trending up (mobile and Internet) and others are trending down (magazines and newspapers).  But the average amount of time they give to all media combined is rising inexorably.

This is shown in an eMarketer item with the figures below: an average of 660 minutes or 11 hours a day across all media in 2010, up 1.5% from 2009 and up 3.9% from 2008.   This analysis does not include pre-recorded music which would surely drive the numbers higher.   You have to wonder where it will end; is there no limit to the amount of media that people will consume?

Media multitasking is one of the things that keeps the total number rising; people using two or more media simultaneously.   eMarketer is explicit; the time that they report is for each medium separately; an hour spent watching TV while online is counted in both the TV and the online numbers.  The rise of the total suggests that as more media find their place in people’s lives they are increasingly layered on top of one another.  So the question becomes not what medium are people using at any given time but which of the various media they’re using is capturing most of their attention; what medium is in the foreground while others are playing in the background.

A study conducted for Yahoo! by Nielsen, reported in mid-2010, suggests that when TV and online are used together online is likely to be in the foreground and TV in the background.    The way I read this press release, 75% of respondents ever use TV and Internet together and 51% of the 75% do so daily.   So 38%, a bit more than a third, show daily simultaneous use of TV and Internet.   What’s really telling, beside the frequency of the behavior, is that the online activity is generally unrelated to the TV programming or commercials being viewed – and 54% report that the Internet is the primary focus of their attention.   54% is not overwhelming; plenty of people are reporting background Internet usage.    But the picture you get, at least for some of the people some of the time: unrelated Internet activities like Google or Facebook are in the foreground of their attention while the TV plays in the background. The frequency of this pattern will of course be higher for younger people.

An implication of this for programmers and TV advertisers:  you need to be (or be advertising on) foreground TV, not background TV.   TV that’s winning the cross-media battle for attention.

In this regard I’ll suggest a hypothesis.  The medium that wins the battle of attention, for any given consumer at any given time, is the one where the consumer is making the most deliberate content choices.    Online tends to win against TV, though not overwhelmingly, because simultaneous users are more active online, choosing what they want to see and do while the TV plays on.

And so…if people choose to watch their TV fare on-demand, from over-the-top sources like Netflix or Hulu, that deliberately selected content will be more likely than more their more casual TV choices to capture attention versus other simultaneous media the user is engaged in.   To the degree that there is advertising on on-demand and over-the-top TV content, that real estate will be increasingly valuable in a media-multitasking world.