Welcome to the New First Screen: Your Phone

A New Millward Brown Study Shows Mobile Use Now Outpacing TV

By Published on .

Say hello to the new first screen: your phone.

Daily time spent on mobile devices is now outpacing TV in the U.S. for the first time, according a newly-released 2014 AdReaction study from Millward Brown.

Americans now spend 151 minutes per day on smartphones, next to 147 in front of TVs. But the numbers are even greater elsewhere. In China, consumers spend a whopping 170 minutes a day buried in smartphones, nearly double their TV watching time.

Users in Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and Vietnam also spend more total screen minutes on average than the U.S., predominately on mobile.

The firm surveyed more than 12,000 mobile users, between the ages of 16 and 44, in 30 different countries, polling consumption of ads over TVs, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Primary screen
According to the findings, the smartphone has emerged as the primary screen worldwide, but the firm also found users are watching multiple screens simultaneously, a global trend that is most-pronounced in China.

"It's still a recent phenomenon that people are tethered to their phones while watching TV," said Joline McGoldrick, research director at Millward Brown. "Their default is to type something into their smartphone."

The agency classifies simultaneous screen time into two key buckets: "stacking," when the consumed content is unrelated (mindlessly surfacing Facebook during a favorite show); and "meshing," when the content synchs up (searching for an actress in the show).

Across the globe, particularly in Asia, consumers prove much more willing to "mesh" than they do in the US. Only 30% of American screen time is spent soaking in related content. The rates in China, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea are all higher. Sixty percent of Thai users spend their screen time "meshing."

Ads not catching up
Outside the US, consumers are also much more amenable to ads on their devices. Asian smartphone owners responded far more favorably to ads than counterparts in the US; and they were more attentive to ads splashing across their phones.

When it comes to mobile ads, global smartphone users are also noticeably open to watching short videos. "Mobile video is just completely poised to explode," Ms. McGoldrick said. The agency's data, she noted, is "showing that other markets are utilizing micro-video more effectively."

Despite the rise in mobile screen time in the U.S., ad spending has failed to catch up. Smartphones and tablets claim around 44% of daily screen time in the U.S. But media spending for the two devices reaches just $18.9 billion, well short of the roughly $70 billion spent on television, according to eMarketer. (Millward Brown does not track global media spending across each device.)

Advertisers in the U.S., Ms. McGoldrick added, haven't just fallen short in spending---they've proven unable to produce consistent, relevant video content for phones, particularly content that exploits multiscreen use. "As a result," she said of video advertising in the U.S., "it feels more like an interruption."

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