The battle for attention: TV vs. tablet

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Recently, I watched a presidential debate on TV with my tablet in hand. While watching TV, I followed live comments on CNN and skimmed the Twitter #debate stream on my iPad.

In the TV-vs.-tablet battle, a big-screen TV holds many advantages over a handheld device: a larger picture and better sound quality. Even when you look away to read your tablet, you still hear what’s going on. TV audio can deliver the message alone.

Yet, I noticed that during lulls in the debate, my Twitter feed got laugh-out-loud funny. When it did, I tuned into to my tablet completely, sharing funny Tweets with a loved one.

That got me to wonder, how well does our attention juggle multiple screens? How should marketers adjust our communications to address multiple screens?

A study shows that about 2 out of 3 tablet owners use tablets as they watch TV. How do people with a tablet and TV allocate their attention?

  • About 36% pay more attention to the tablet.
  • About 28% pay more attention to the TV.
  • The remaining 36% pay equal attention to both screens.

A study for YuMe found that all kinds of screens can compete for attention effectively. TVs, mobile devices and PCs each capture users' attention 74% to 87% of the time.

TV packs more emotional punch, YuMe found. But TV ad recall is weaker, due to ad clutter. Users better recall ads from less cluttered media, such as Internet TV and mobile devices.

A tablet has innate advantages: it's in your hand. You choose what to see or hear. Apps such as Twitter invite you to skim many items quickly.

Now, say your phone rings. It commands your attention. You put the tablet down. You mute the sound on the TV. Yet, the TV picture continues to deliver the message.

How can messages break through on multiple screens?

More screens mean more competition for eyeballs—and divided attention. That’s why marketers and communicators have an even tougher job, to win attention for a message. To overcome divided attention, we need to:

  • Size messages to fit people's attention windows—deliver a consistent message in 9 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes or 20 minutes.
  • Keep text short and easy to scan. Speak in sound bites.
  • Offer multiple media so people can choose a comfortable format.
  • Test videos to ensure they deliver the whole message through pictures alone (sound off), and through the soundtrack alone (pictures off).
  • Deliver communications into environments with the least clutter.
  • Build credibility to gain third parties who carry the message.

Attention also depends on when and where you use a screen. About 38% of people watch TV on the couch, 23% watch in bed, and 39% watch elsewhere. TV ads seen in bed, where there's less clutter and competition from other devices, are best-recalled. Whatever the message, you get a chance to sleep on it too.

YuMe’s infographic sums up its study.

How do you address multiscreen users? Post a comment below, or tell me on Twitter: @riverwordguy.

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