Much recent evidence indicates that people are now increasingly using a ‘second screen’ while watching television, a practice which is changing the way people interact with the programmes. Social networks are apparently the prime beneficiaries of this trend.

Social Networks Now an Integral Part of TV Consumption?

There is nothing new about people socialising around audiovisual entertainment. After all, the television is basically a sort of proto-social media device.  However, nowadays TV viewing appears to be much more intimately linked with use of the social networks. According to a recent survey among US television viewers conducted by New York and Netherlands headquartered company Nielsen, which specialises in global consumer information and audience measurement, in 2013, 15% of all viewers polled said they enjoyed watching television more when social media was involved, i.e. 4% more than in 2012. This appears to be due to the advent of ‘second screen’ use, which means that TV viewers tend to become fans of their favourite programmes, share programme content with friends, and interact both before and after the broadcast with various online communities.

TV and social networks becoming more closely bound up

The Nielsen report indicates that 25% of TV viewers polled reported having a higher awareness of TV programmes specifically due to social media, compared with 18% in 2012. These results tend to support the findings of a previous survey by the Council for Research Excellence, which revealed in 2013 that 37% of those responding to its survey used social networks in relation to TV programmes, and that 13% did so while actually watching the broadcast. Moreover, the Nielsen report states that 29% of all smartphone owners polled said they emailed or texted friends about a programme.

Second screen, divided attention

Apart from going on to the social networks, surfing the web is the next most frequent activity people polled by Nielsen choose to do on their second screen while watching their favourite programmes, using tablets (66%) or smartphones (50%). Meanwhile, TV viewers also shop, look up the biographies of the actors or sports stars in the programme they are watching, comment on what they see to their friends via text messages or social networks, and also purchase related products online. This new varied interaction should be of particular interest to two different audiences: programme producers, who now need to think about integrating social networks into their shows in order to enhance the user experience; and commercial advertisers, who ought to be getting in on this new, increasingly ‘social’, TV consumption trend.


By Arthur de Villemandy