July 17, 2012

The Rise of the “Connected Viewer”

Half of cell owners use their phones for distraction or engagement while watching television

Young adult cell users lead the way in multi-screen viewing experiences: 81% of them are “connected viewers”

Washington (July 17, 2012) – Half of all adult cell phone owners now incorporate their mobile devices into their television watching experiences, according to a nationally representative telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. These “connected viewers” used their cell phones for a wide range of activities during the 30 days preceding our April 2012 survey:

  • 38% of cell owners used their phone to keep themselves occupied during commercials or breaks in something they were watching
  • 23% used their phone to exchange text messages with someone else who was watching the same program in a different location
  • 22% used their phone to check whether something they heard on television was true or not
  • 20% used their phone to visit a website that was mentioned on television
  • 11% used their phone to see what other people were saying online about a program they were watching, and 11% posted their own comments online about a program they were watching using their mobile phone
  • 6% used their phone to vote for a reality show contestant

Taken together, 52% of all cell owners are “connected viewers”—meaning they use their phones while watching television for at least one of these reasons.

“These findings unify two trends occurring across modern media platforms: the rise of audience engagement and the rise of portable connectivity,” said Jan Lauren Boyles, a research intern at Pew Internet and a co-author of the report. “Television audiences are actively primed to participate, and these connected viewers are using mobile devices to debate, learn, and engage with programming and each other.”

The youngest adults are especially enamored of multi-screen viewing experiences, as 81% of cell owners ages 18-24 are classified as connected viewers. At the same time, the use of mobile phones to engage with televised content is widespread throughout a range of demographic cohorts: well over half of cell owners between the ages of 25 and 44 are connected viewers, and nearly half of those in their mid-40s to mid-50s have used their phone recently to engage with—or distract themselves during—televised content.

Other key differences that emerge in this research include:

  • Smartphone owners are far more likely to use their phones to engage with televised content than owners of more basic phones. Some 74% of smartphone owners are connected viewers, compared with just 27% of those with more basic phones.
  • African-American cell owners are more likely than whites or Latinos to use their phone to see what others are saying online and to post their own comments online about a program they are watching, as well as share text messages with someone else watching a program in a different location.
  • Cell owners living in households earning $50,000 per year or more are more likely to participate in interactive television experiences than those in households with lower annual incomes, and those with at least some college experience are more likely to do so than those who have not graduated high school. Additionally, urban residents are more likely to be connected viewers than those living in rural areas.

“Thanks to the widespread adoption of mobile technologies, what was once a passive, one-way information flow is often now a social contact sport,” said Aaron Smith, a Pew Internet researcher and co-author of the report. “Viewers are using these devices to find others who share their passions, to sound off on programming that captures their attention, and to go ‘beyond the broadcast’ to inform themselves more fully about the things they have heard and experienced.”

The Pew Internet report is based on a survey conducted from March 15-April 3 among 2,254 adults ages 18 and over, including surveys in English and Spanish and on both landline and cell phones. The margin of error for cell phone owners is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

Media contacts

Aaron Smith: asmith@pewinternet.org and 202-419-4516

Jan Lauren Boyles: jboyles@pewinternet.org and 202-419-4521