Facebook Finds Distracted Viewing Among Smartphone Users

Television viewers who use smartphones while watching the big screen are apt to get distracted, Facebook has found in a new study of how people use the devices to multitask in front of the TV.

The social network said those viewers’ eyes were off the TV screen about 47% of the time during an in-home eye-tracking study it conducted. Overall the study found that 94% of the 100 people participating kept a smartphone on hand while watching TV.

Facebook said the biggest reason people stop looking at their TV sets is to do household chores. But many use their phones as well.

Of those using their phones while watching TV, 70% said they were trying to stay connected with friends; others said to avert boredom (51%), to take a break (44%) and to avoid missing out on other things going on (40%).

Among 1 million Facebook users whose status updates indicated they were watching the premiere of a popular cable show last fall, Facebook activity went up by as much as 300% during commercial breaks.

In the eye-tracking study, 58 people watched ad-supported TV content, according to a post on the company’s blog. On average, those people “disengaged” during a third of the commercial breaks. Viewers would stop watching breaks about 2.5 seconds into the first ad. And of those who stopped watching commercials, three-quarters started looking at their phones.

Facebook said the findings reinforce its pitch that marketers should bolster TV campaigns with mobile video ads on Facebook and Instagram. Those digital ads will also extend a campaign’s reach, the company said.

It also urged marketers to optimize the audio during TV commercials.

”Our analysis of Facebook data showed that TV viewers often use Facebook during TV commercial breaks,” a company spokesperson said. "But even when people aren't looking at your TV ads, they can still hear them. Ensure your TV ads break through by making the audio engaging and memorable."

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.