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Most TV-Watchers Use Phones for Interactivity: Pew

Mobile phone users, particularly younger demos, aren't waiting around for traditional TV to catch up with their desire for on-screen interactivity.

That is according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, which found that half of all adult cellphone owners are "connected viewers," employing their phones to supplement their TV viewing, or what Pew calls "engagement, diversion or interaction." That "connected viewer" figure jumps to 81% for users 18-24, but is strong across the board, with 72% of adults 25-34 connected viewers and 60% of those 35-44. Percentages drop below 50% from there, with only 16% seniors 65-plus phoning it in.

The study, conducted March 15-April 3 among 2,254 adults 18-plus, found that users tapped into their phones for a variety of reasons during TV-watching, including over a third (38%) who used them during commercial breaks to "keep themselves occupied." According to study co-author Aaron Smith, the study did not drill down to find out what they were doing during the commercial breaks, so it is possible they could have been reacting to or following up something they saw in an ad, he said, rather than ignoring the ad altogether.

According to the study, 23% used their phones to text someone who is watching the same show; 22% used the phone to visit a website mentioned on TV (either in the programming or ads); 11% surfed the Web to see what others were saying online about the show -- the same percentage said they posted their own online comments about it -- and 6% said they sometimes used the phone to vote for a reality show contestant.

"Television audiences are actively primed to participate," said co-author/research intern Jan Lauren Boyles, "and these connected viewers are using mobile devices to debate, learn, and engage with programming and each other."

Connected viewers skew upscale and urban, with households earning $50,000 or more, more likely to be turning their TV viewing interactive via their phones, and urban (54%) and suburban (52%) more likely than rural to be turning their viewing experience into a social one, though with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, the gap is not much beyond that margin.

According to the study, African-Americans (59%) are more likely than Latinos (54%) or whites (50%) to surf the Web for comments on a show they are watching or text watchers in other locations.