What you need to know about media multitasking

It's a common misconception held by marketers ­that 50% of people use a digital device (smartphone, tablet or laptop) while watching TV.

This belief has influenced the decisions of some of the world’s most astute marketers, including Seth Kaufman, Chief Marketing Officer of PepsiCo North America (Beverages). “Consumers’ attention spans have changed, and no one is watching television without using a smart device at the same time” he says. Kaufman has admitted to spending a large proportion of his marketing budget into traditional media across PepsiCo’s many brands to drive viewers to its digital platforms.

While multi-screening may be prevalent in your everyday life, many media experts have called out the universal claim as both far-fetched and highly inaccurate. The 2016 Ad Nation study commissioned by Thinkbox (a UK marketing agency) and conducted by Ipsos Connect confirmed expert opinion that only 19% of people expressed this behavior.

Although the numbers are not currently as high as Kaufman and marketers estimated, a recent global survey from Nielsen confirmed that multi-screening is rising. Its principal finding was that people are increasingly checking their e-mail or searching for program or product information on their tablets and phones – and doing so while watching TV. This extensive survey was conducted in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Italy.


According to Nielsen’s survey, in the United States, 26% of smart device owners said they used a digital device several times a day while watching TV against the UK 24%, Germany 12% and Italy 15%. Others who said they use their mobile device in front of the TV on a daily basis were the US 19%, the UK 17%, Germany 16% and Italy 14%.

Those who would watch TV and use a digital device at least once a month were US 7 %, the UK 7%, Germany and Italy 9%. Others who have never used both media simultaneously were separated into US 12%, the UK 20%, Germany 23% and Italy 29%.

Among all of those polled, checking e-mail proved to be the most popular task while watching TV, although many indicated this only occurred during commercial breaks. A fair number also recalled using their mobile devices to research information related to what they were watching on TV, or check out products advertised on TV.

Neither task distracted the viewer from the traditional media channel, but likely reinforced and supported the primary media message.

In the case of TV driving consumers to online, it appears nothing really has changed – it’s merely a cross-medium adaptation of the traditional media plan. Just as seeing a TV ad in 1960 pushed the viewer to get a competition coupon in a newspaper or breakfast cereal packet.


We expect Gen Z will be high adopter’s of dual multi-tasking media and Gen Alpha will reinvent and adopt multi-screening even further. We also predict that the introduction of the next generation post smart phone device will exponentially push the numbers even sooner.

It’s evident that the rise in multi-tasking or multi-screening is linked to the prevalence of mobile devices. This is not a criticism and it draws no schism in media type preferences or media multitasking. It’s merely pointing out the fact that future media trends will push online media of all persuasions.