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David Pidgeon 

TV the dominant living room screen? It's a myth, says IAB

TV the dominant living room screen? It's a myth, says IAB

The Internet Advertising Bureau is about to ruffle some feathers. Releasing the results of a new study today (11 February), the body is announcing the "decline of the TV-centric living room".

The research - which employed surveys, passive filming, on-device tracking, daily diaries and biometric data, along with national grid and British Gas data - charts how the rise of internet-connected devices has impacted the living room dynamic imposed by "traditional" TV watching.

The IAB - which represents the interests of online and mobile advertisers - argues that the concept of TV as the dominant living room screen is a myth. The study states that only half of UK online adults now say the TV set is the focal point of their living room, whilst 70% report they "ordinarily use a connected device whilst watching TV" - with the figure rising to 87% of 16-34 year-olds.

The study, 'Real_Living', conducted with research partner Sparkler, notes that multi-device activity peaks between 6-9pm, with over one third (34%) of respondents checking emails, 31% using Instant Message or text and 25% shopping online during TV programmes.

The biometric data - gleaned via skin sensors to gauge emotional response - revealed that about 60% of the time a person is most highly engaged during an evening TV session they are actually engaged in non-TV related activity - such playing with their mobile or talking to someone.

The IAB's view is that so-called 'second screening' is now so deeply ingrained into our behaviour that all screens are now equal.

"There's no hierarchy, only fragmentation of attention," said Tim Elkington, the IAB's chief strategy officer, who oversaw the report.

Elkington added that entertainment is now only a "small part" of the living room media activity.

"It's now a multifunctional space where people jump between individual and group activities, be it shopping, social media, emails, work or messaging."

The study's conclusions also state that the "traditional assumption" that people only use the ad breaks for non-TV related behaviour is "no longer valid in a multi-screen world".

34% of respondents would check email both during the TV show and the ad break, while texting is only 1% higher during the ad break than the programme.

Perhaps surprisingly, the device tracking showed, overall, there was actually more online activity per minute during a programme than an ad break.

"Connected devices and the realities of modern life mean behaviour in the living room is no longer determined by TV programmes and ad breaks, it is determined by the natural rhythm of device usage," said Elkington.

Among the various activities people do during an ad break, the one they do most often is going online via a connected device (35%) followed by talking to someone in the room (15%), leaving the room (13%) and changing the channel (8%).

One of the most worrying findings for advertisers should be the fact that only 5% of respondents would watch an ad in its entirety, while 4% would mute the TV.

"Connected devices have changed the living room and will continue to do so, and advertisers must plan for the living room of tomorrow," concludes Elkington. "This requires a rethink about how to command attention in the living room because the opportunity to do so is far more limited, fragmented and competitive than ever before."

The study is not, however, immune from criticism.

Richard Marks, founder of Research the Media and an independent consultant, said the British public is "notoriously shy" about admitting the amount of television that they watch.

"I have to say that if half of adults on this survey freely admit that the TV set is actually the 'focal point' of their living room, then that's actually something that I would have thought would be hugely reassuring to the TV industry," he told Newsline.

"The survey isn't able to say whether this has gone up or down, but instead draws in data on energy spikes which could be reflecting any number of societal changes, including whether we are now more likely to drink alcohol at home in the evening rather than tea."

In a similar vein, Matt Walters, senior consultant at Decipher, said that the level of media multitasking identified by the IAB across different connected devices is not surprising.

"What this piece of research fails to take into account, however, is the extent to which consumers' use of these connected devices is related to the TV content they're watching on the big screen, for example looking up the cast information of a film - something Ofcom has previously described as 'media meshing'.

"Watching television is above all a social and cultural activity, and research indicates a fair proportion of this second screening can be attributed to TV-related activity."

Walters added that the IAB's conclusion that there is no longer a "hierarchy of screen" is misleading.

"Each connected device has its own set of 'use cases'," he said. "Our research and our work with consumers suggests that the TV in the living room remains the most popular device on which to watch long-form film and television content, far ahead of any other device.

"Connected devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, are typically used for 'snacking'-style consumption: short bursts of second screen activities, such as checking e-mail and using search engines."

Walters added that by focusing solely on consumption in the living room, the IAB research presents only a partial picture: "a significant and growing amount of video consumption, including TV and film, is taking place outside the living room and sometimes out of the home," he added. "This is typically where consumption on connected devices have a primacy. That said, our work indicates that - when given the option - consumers' preference is to default to the TV screen in the living room."

Explained: The decline of the 'kettle power surge'

During the biggest TV event in 1990 - England's World Cup semi-final against West Germany - National Grid data compiled by British Gas showed a power surge equivalent to 1.12 million kettles boiling at the same time immediately after the match.

However, in 2014's biggest TV event - England's World Cup match against Uruguay - the power surge was the equivalent of only 410,000 boiling kettles.

There are lots of ways to explain what is happening, including brits drinking more drinks that don't need boiling first.

Firstly, improved energy efficiency and the rise of coffee machines means the spike is likely to be lower. However, the ability to pause live TV and watch content on catch-up services means there is a fundamental difference in the way a nation watches TV.

For example, during the most recent series of Game of Thrones a significant proportion of the series' audience watched the live broadcast in a 'time-shifted' way.

Time-shifting "smooths out" electricity consumption around ad breaks: instead of a sudden five-minute spike, there is a more gradual and prolonged, though noticeably increased, level of usage.

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