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Getting Second-Screen Users to Watch Ads on TV

In a multiscreen world, finding ways to get consumers to pay attention to advertising has never been more critical, and new research has found that audio can play an important role in refocusing viewers to what’s happening on TV.

Media agency ZenithOptimedia Worldwide and Turner Broadcasting did a study with research company Innerscope in the first quarter that looked at what causes a viewer to quickly look up at the TV—a phenomenon they call Snapback. The challenge they found was viewers spent twice as much time looking at second screens during ads. The good news was that Snapbacks were 22% more likely to occur during commercials.

“We’ve always been in a world where we’re struggling for attention as programmers. What second and third screens have done is escalate where people lose their attention to,” says Howard Shimmel, senior VP, ad sales and sports research for Turner Broadcasting. “Using research like this to improve creative and take advantage of the learning makes TV pay off better. That’s important to everybody.”

Rob Jayson, ZenithOptimedia chief data officer, says that while studying viewers’ reactions to commercials in Innerscope’s labs, audio cues got people whose attention had migrated to a second screen to return to the TV. Those include repetitive sounds, familiar voices, voiceovers and music.

“We found significant differences in the ability to pull viewer attention back from the second screen depending on the program genre that was airing, with sports having the highest Snapback potential and comedy shows the lowest,” says Jayson, who wrote about Snapback in B&C’s Media Buyer and Planner Today newsletter.

While second-screen usage divides attention, it might be improving ad impact by keeping emotions high, Jayson adds. People tend to shift to a second screen when they get bored with what’s on the first screen, and they may be more involved overall by having an additional source of content.

“There is a 73% correlation between the emotional resonance and second-screen usage,” Jayson says. “We can’t assume which one causes the other, but there is certainly a significant relationship between the two.”

The research also found that as emotional resonance increases, ad receptivity improves proportionally; second-screen use creates viewers who are emotionally primed to be receptive to ads—assuming the creative gets those viewers to perk up and look at that first screen.

“If your target audience is a heavy secondscreener, it’s going to be important that your creative have some stand-out audio cues to increase the likelihood they will be exposed to the ad,” Jayson says. “But we also see some potential media implications as well. Finding those environments which increase emotional response will prime an audience for an ad. Because second-screening appears to exacerbate that effect, this may be another metric we can use for finding emotionally primed consumers.”

Innerscope quantifies that emotional resonance using biometric tracking, measuring volunteer viewers’ heart rate and galvanic skin response.

“The beauty of how Innerscope measures emotional resonance is it just lets us measure things that consumers can’t really tell us,” Shimmel says. “And it lets us measure it with a granularity. Consumers just can’t self-report truly how engaged they are and how their engagement changes moment to moment.”


Media buyers say NBC has more than doubled its asking price for ads during the Belmont Stakes now that California Chrome has a chance to win horse racing’s Triple Crown.

A package of spots, including two in NBC’s lengthy prerace programming plus one during race coverage, costs $500,000 to $700,000, say buyers, who add that NBC appears to have little inventory left.

“We have been aggressive going to market and the market has been coming to us,” says Seth Winter, executive VP, sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group and NBCUniversal News Group. “There have been lots of discussions and we’re optimistic it will result in positive sales.”

When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two Triple Crown legs, ratings swell. In 2008, when Big Brown attempted but failed to win the crown, the Belmont drew 13 million viewers. The average since 2001 has been 7 million. The excitement and added viewers generated by California Chrome’s quest is likely to translate into more ad revenue as well.

Last year, NBC’s Belmont coverage generated $6.3 million in ad revenue, according to Kantar Media.

No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. The Belmont Stakes will be broadcast on June 7.