Millennials' Attention Divided Across Devices More Than Other Age Groups, Study Finds

Christine Birkner
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
  • The study, “When Screens Collide: Viewer Behavior in Multi-Screen Environments,” by Nielsen and YuMe Inc. found that while watching TV, those under 35 multitasked more than those over 35, and they used other devices 33% more often. 
  • Ninety-two percent of millennials surveyed used a smartphone or tablet while watching TV, and 47% used those devices to access content related to what they were watching on TV. 
  • ​Participants paid more attention to ads on digital devices than ads on TV: Of 100 ads shown on each device, participants viewed 93 of the ads shown on a tablet, 71 of the ads shown on a laptop and 30 ads shown on a TV.​

Multitasking and multiscreen behavior have been on the rise among all consumers in the digital era, but a new study finds that millennials multitask more while watching TV and use more devices than other age groups.

For the study, “When Screens Collide: Viewer Behavior in Multi-Screen Environments,” which was released on March 11, New York-based Nielsen Holdings N.V. and Redwood City, Calif.-based advertising technology provider YuMe Inc. asked 200 participants to engage with any of their devices (TV, smartphone or tablet) for 20 minutes as if they were at home. They found that while watching TV, those under 35 multitasked more than those over 35, and they used other devices 33% more often.

Ninety-two percent of millennials surveyed used a smartphone or tablet while watching TV, and 47% used those devices to access content related to what they were watching on TV. The shift in attention from TV to other devices typically happened within the first few minutes of the experiment. “When millennials had a tablet and a TV in use, about 75% of their attention was on the TV. If they were using a tablet and a smartphone, we found that attention was evenly divided between the two,” says Paul Neto, director of research at YuMe.

Additionally, participants paid more attention to ads on digital devices than ads on TV: Of 100 ads shown on each device, participants viewed 93 of the ads shown on a tablet, 71 of the ads shown on a laptop and 30 ads shown on a TV. “Most of the video ads on laptops or tablets are user-initiated,” Neto says. “A video will trigger an ad. There’s already a certain level of engagement that wouldn’t happen on TV, so as a result, the number of ads that people are paying attention to on digital devices is much higher. When somebody’s in a living room with a TV on, they’re usually shifting across devices, so digital can be an important wingman for TV.”

Consumers aren’t likely to discriminate based on the device or platform, he adds. “Consumers are tied to content. They’ll use what’s the most convenient for them, so there should be a linkage between platforms. Because of higher levels of attention-shifting, reaching people on different devices provides new opportunities for brands.”

For more on consumers’ shorter attention spans, see the AMA blog post, “Content Marketing and the Attention Economy,” and “The Goldfish Conundrum” in the April 2014 issue of Marketing News.



This article was originally published in the March 17, 2015 issue of Marketing News Weekly.​

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Author Bio:

Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org.
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