Reaching an Audience on Multiple Screens

Posted on April 30, 2012

ITVS's Rebecca Huval discusses research, news, and trends that come out of ITVS’s IndiesLab.

As you probably know, TV viewership today is vastly different than it was just a few years ago. There’s at least one upside. Now that viewers tend to click on their entertainment, media has become easier to track. Recent Nielsen reports paint a picture of TV homes aglow with multiple screens, and their viewing habits vary across demographics in interesting ways. Gadget owners juggle between multiple screens. While watching a TV program, they checked email (57 percent), surfed for unrelated info (44 percent), and visited a social networking site (44 percent). In 2011, the number of laptops surpassed desktops in TV homes, making it easier to browse on the couch. The top visited websites were the usual suspects: Facebook, YouTube, Zynga, Google Search, and Yahoo! Mail.

Portable internet devices have fragmented audiences and their attention spans. Interestingly, tablets are the only digital category where males make up the majority. Tablets are mostly used at home, and used on-the-go only 30 percent of the time. They are used almost equally for books (31 percent), sports (34 percent), and news (39 percent). Smartphones, on the other hand, are a commuter’s best friend. App usage peaks among adults at 5PM as workers file out of the office to play Angry Birds. Smartphones have also penetrated a large swath of the mobile market: By the end of 2011, 44 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers owned a smartphone. As you might have guessed, internet video watchers tend to be younger than TV viewers. 

The 18-34-year old and 35-39-year old groups make up a larger percentage of online than TV viewership. However, the youngest tots are still watching the older medium: 2-17-year olds make up 23 percent of TV viewers, but only 14 percent of online video viewers. These new habits and demographics beg the question: How can we get viewers to engage with us on multiple screens at once? And how do we sustain the interest of younger viewers who are used to a deluge of media vying for their attention? 

Independent Television Service has responded with Project 360 Enhanced, an initiative launched in Fall 2009 to enhance documentaries with interactive experiences such as digital games, website features, mobile applications, and more. “By creating contests, games, and multi-screen experiences, audiences become more active viewers,” said Cathy Fischer, senior content producer at ITVS. “They can engage with the content, dig deeper into the subject matter, participate, and share.” 

One successful example was The Hayloft Gang. The documentary illuminates 1930s and 40s America through country and bluegrass music radio shows. To draw in musicians through online communities, Project 360 Enhanced worked with the filmmaker to encourage bluegrass enthusiasts to submit their liveliest renditions of 30s and 40s roots tunes. The winners were featured on The Hayloft Gang’s website and awarded prizes such as a Martin Vintage Guitar and a custom mandolin. Sixty participants entered, and the contest itself received 52,898 views and 19,648 votes. “With The Hayloft Gang Contest we were able to reach audiences that may not usually watch PBS, but are fans of bluegrass and folk music,” Fischer said.

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