Are You A Second Screener?


Do you find it near-impossible to flop down in front of the TV without constantly gazing at your smartphone to see if there’s a message, email or tweet? Are you tapping away at your tablet all the time while watching your football team on telly? If this sounds like you, then you’re a second screener. But fear not, for you’re far from alone.

Just under a third of us now use a smartphone while watching TV on a traditional television set, while one in ten of us uses a tablet, according to a study of UK TV viewing habits recently conducted by broadband comparison website

But why do so many of us now watch TV with our smartphone or tablet in our hands? What are we doing with them while we’re watching TV? And is this a habit that’s here to stay? Let’s investigate…

What is second screening?

The term ‘second screening’ originally meant your smartphone or tablet “provided an interaction channel for the TV or ‘first screen’ and hence was a response mechanism for advertisers, game shows and more,” says Jo Rabin, chief technology officer (CTO) of mobile agency Sponge Group.

However, second screening has now evolved beyond simply using your mobile device to interact with what’s happening on the TV show you’re watching, whether that’s to browse the web for Cillit Bang after seeing an advert for it, or to tweet The Gossip to ask if Mark Wright’s hair is now made entirely from chocolate sauce, according to Rabi

“With the rise of social media, second screening comes also to cover the increasingly common or prevalent case that a family sitting on a couch doesn’t have its attention focused primarily on what is happening on the first screen and is doing unrelated things with the second screen.”

This is evident from the 2,000 people polled by broadbandchoices, with over two-thirds of those who said they use a second device while watching TV claiming they use them to check and send emails and over half using them to social networks, while just over one in ten use them to engage with the content they’re viewing.

How has second screening come about?

So now we know what it is and why we do it, but how has this concept second screening come about? After all, portable computing devices such as laptops have been around for an age, while mobile phones have been commonplace since the late nineties, so why is it only in recent years that the habit of watching TV accompanied by a second device has begun to spring up?

“What’s fuelled this is the decline in prices of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones – mostly devices that run on the Android platform, which are much cheaper than iOS devices,” says Ronan Shields, digital and mobile reporter at marketing news magazine Marketing Week.


He believes the growing accessibility and, consequently, popularity of internet-connected mobile devices which can utilise home wireless broadband has given us easy access social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter, which broadcasters and advertisers have started to try and cater for.

“Media owners and production houses are aware of this and starting to weave interactive elements into their programming such as hashtags, Facebook voting platforms and so on,” he says, before explaining the concept itself is nothing new as using the telephone or texting to interact with TV shows has “been around for years”.

Is second screening here to stay?

So, while second screening may have been around for longer than we realise, will we still have our smartphoneor tablet by our side while watching TV in ten years time, or will the novelty of trolling X Factor contestants on Twitter or shouting ‘OMG!’ at no one in particular on Facebook as the latest Coronation Street cliffhanger comes to a climax wear off? And will broadcasters aim to engage us further through the second screen?

“I’d say the whole ‘second screening’ phenomenon is set to stay before evolving from there as new technologies become available to people,” says Ronan Shields, with broadcasters looking for new ways to add to the second screen experience. He cites next month’s Brit Awards, where Twitter live events pages, which are designed to encourage more comprehensive second screen engagement, will be used in the UK for the first time.


Jo Rabin agrees, pointing out it is “really early days” for second screening and that, given how long it took radio, TV and the web to emerge as individual platforms, “it seems only logical” that cross-channel or multi-screen formats, which embellish your TV viewing experience via your smartphone or tablet, will take longer to fulfil their potential.

So, don’t be ashamed about clutching your smartphone or tablet as you settle down in front of the TV – embrace the habit, because it seems safe to say there’s a lot more to come from second screening yet.

This is a guestpost by Kelvin Goodson, senior writer at, the broadband, home phone and TV comparison service. Here is the Google+ profile of Kelvin Goodson.

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