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TV is everywhere. It colonises every screen in sight, both in and out of the home. But what does this mean for viewers and, crucially, for advertisers?  Has the role of TV changed within people’s lives and ultimately, how do brands live across all these different screens?

Screen Life 3: TV advertising everywhere’ sought to tackle these questions head-on.  Working with Craft Strategy, we constructed a broad and innovative methodology that allowed us to deconstruct the role of TV and understand the new rituals and rhythms of TV viewing on different screens and in different locations.  We were then able to assess the role of advertising within these different contexts and offer advertisers guidance as to how they can best utilise the opportunities that TV provides, in all its guises.


We employed a number of both qualitative and quantitative techniques:

1)     Video ethnography of 18 households using a mixture of both fixed-cameras in home and Eyecams (video glasses).  These enabled us to capture high quality footage of viewing wherever people happened to view, both in and out of home.  Overall, the participants were more technologically advanced than average UK household in order to allow us to capture a good level of out-of-home viewing.  Respondents were also interviewed extensively and partook in an online forum.  We also had academic input to help validate the findings and root them in psychological, sociological and anthropological theory.

2)     Mobile viewing diaries of 802 people enabled us to capture what was going on in regards to viewing in real-time and on a much larger scale.  In addition, we ran a series of ‘ad camps’ (respondent participation workshops) to help deconstruct the role of advertising across the most commonly identifiable viewing occasions.  Finally, we topped this off with a nationally representative online survey of over 2000 people to confirm what we had learned and add more scale to the findings.

What We Discovered:

The findings were wide ranging and covered everything from the social need to belong to the implications of multi-screening for advertisers.

TV viewing is relatively predictable

Firstly, we realised that in order to fully understand the impact of TV advertising across the various formats and devices, we needed to provide a framework for our respondents that mirrored the main ways and contexts in which they watched. Perceptions and acceptance of advertising isn’t uniform, it’s a fluid thing that changes with the environment in which it’s consumed.

From our observation, it became apparent that the vast majority of TV viewing happens across a limited number of viewing occasions (for example, that cherished moment when it’s just you and the TV, or the moment in which you and your family gather round the set to watch Saturday night telly).  These occasions were almost ritualistic.  Many happened more frequently than others and some lent themselves better to viewing on different devices and locations, beyond the main set.

If you’d like to learn more about these viewing occasions, you can watch a short video, showing them in detail, here :

The living room is central to TV viewing… but TV has colonised the home

The fundamental importance of the living room to TV viewing was immediately apparent.  The vast majority of TV in the UK is watched on a TV set in the living room (86% according to BARB). And the new ‘Screen Life’ study found that two-thirds of the UK (63%) thinks TV is central to making the living room a special place in the home.
This backed up the academic theory, which highlighted the primal need of humans to ‘belong’.  TV provided an anchor, not just within the home, but also in terms of engendering a sense of national belonging.

However, the study also uncovered where TV is being watched beyond the living room. We discovered where around the house people now watch TV on mobile screens such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.  Interestingly, behaviour was quite varied.  56% of the sample had watched TV on screens other than the TV set whilst in the living room, whilst nearly half (46%) had watched in the bedroom.  A quarter (24%) had used a mobile device to watch TV in their study or home office; 19% in the kitchen; 12% in the garden; and 9% had even used their device to watch TV in the bathroom or toilet!  This demonstrates the increasingly fluid nature of TV and its ability to a slot more seamlessly than ever into people’s lives.

TV is now everywhere – it’s on the move.

Perhaps one of the most interesting benefits of device proliferation – particularly for advertisers – is the fact that we can now consume TV wherever we go.   In fact, over a third (37%) of people within our nat-rep survey claimed to have watched TV when out and about – which is surprising when you consider this wasn’t widely possible just five years ago.  In fact, tablets, laptops and smartphones are facilitating viewing in a host of new environments.  Nearly a fifth of our nat-rep sample (17%) had watched TV when they are at someone else’s house and a sizeable 13% had done so whilst at work.  Watching TV on the commute or whilst travelling is also gaining momentum with 16% saying they watch TV on public transport, 12% while travelling in a car and a tenth saying they watched TV whilst travelling on business.  A further 12% had watched somewhere else out of the home – for example, whilst waiting for a bus.
This highlights the changing face of television and provides an interesting opportunity for advertisers.

The longer you watch, the better your ad recall

Although conscious recall is only a minor factor of overall ad effectiveness (we know from numerous studies that implicit impact of advertising plays a hugely significant role) the mobile study allowed us to examine the memorability of TV advertising in real-time.

We found that the longer people watched TV, the more likely they were to recall a TV ad from the last 15 minutes.  In fact, 58% of people who watched for 15-30 minutes could recall one or more ads and the longer they watched, the more they could recall.  After two or more hours of viewing, two thirds of the sample could remember one or more ads unprompted.  (For people who could recall 5 or more, the figures were 8% and 17% respectively.)
Of course, part of this may be down to frequency, but that is just one part of picture. 

On demand gets people talking about advertising

We’ve always known that broadcast TV gets people talking – its ability to drive buzz and make brands famous is one of the main reasons it pays back.  But can the same be said of TV on Demand?

The study found that, although viewers in the sample were most likely to talk about TV advertising during live viewing (13%), TVOD was not far behind at inspiring ad-related conversations, with 10% claiming via their mobile diaries to have discussed TV ads in the last 15 minutes when they were watching TV on-demand.
Young people are most likely to discuss TV advertising

When it comes to discussing TV ads, younger people were the most likely to engage.  On average 12% of the sample claimed to have talked about a TV ad. For 16-34s this was 16%.

Social campaigns are more welcome in the evening

Social media has become an increasingly widespread and integral part of communications planning.  Thinkbox have examined the link between TV and social media in several studies (the most recent being our work with Twitter which you can see here) and were keen to explore attitudes towards social media elements in TV advertising campaigns in this research.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the extent of their reach, Facebook and Twitter were considered to be the best fit with social TV campaigns – with 31% and 27% respectively believing the platforms to be a good fit with TV advertising.
We also discovered a marked difference between the times of day at which social elements of TV campaigns were considered to be the most welcome.  Over half (55%) believe that early evening was the best time, compared with only 16% for the morning, 27% for the afternoon and 35% for late evening/night.

This broadly mirrors the pattern of multi-screening we witnessed within the study.
Multi-screening during the ad breaks is commonplace
Multi-screening is of huge interest to advertisers – and for good reason.  It is the facilitator of online response and essentially means that all TV has the ability to become response TV.  Viewers can see an ad that piques their interest, look up the brand, research it and even buy it before the ad break has finished.
We examined multi-screening in depth during our 2011, ‘Screen Life: the view from the sofa research’ (you can see the study here) but at that point, multi-screening was still a niche activity.
This research showed that multi-screening has become commonplace. During peak-time viewing, Three quarters (74%) of the mobile diary sample claimed they pick up another device during TV ad breaks. 
And perhaps surprisingly, there was very little difference between age groups, social demographics or gender.
Interestingly, multi-screening during the ad breaks was not only confined to live viewing, as might be expected. In fact 79% of the sample claimed to multi-screen during the ads around on demand content and 72% claimed to do so during the ads around recorded TV content.

Given that almost half of all time-shifted content is watched on the day it was recorded and virtually all within 7 days, this shows that although small, there is potential for response for advertiser’s brands in non-live content through multi-screening.

Ad break multi-screening differs by genre

Multi-screening during the ad breaks is most likely to happen around certain genres of TV programming.   Comedy shows (where 82% picked up another device), entertainment (81%), soaps (77%) and documentaries (76%) were the main genres that seemed to facilitate use of another device.
Ad break multi-screeners have similar levels of recall

We’ve already stressed that recall is just one part of ad effectiveness, but as recall is often a concern of advertisers when it comes to multi-screening.   Our research showed that people who multi-screened during TV ad breaks in the research were able to recall a similar amount of ads as the average viewer. Average viewers could recall 1.9 ads; multi-screeners could recall 2 ads.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but it backs up previous research relating to multi-screening.  On the whole, our brains rarely focus wholly on one thing for any period of time.  We’re designed to switch our attention between tasks astonishingly quickly; it’s one of the defining features of the human brain.  Even when we think we’re watching TV with no distractions, we tend to switch focus to other things within the room, or our thoughts wander off elsewhere.  For that reason, multi-screening mimics what we’d be doing anyway; but our attention is more confined to the two devices.  We switch rapidly between the two devices depending on what is the most compelling at any one time and so elements of advertising that grab the attention become even more crucial when multi-screening.

Audio in ads is crucial for grabbing attention

One particular facet that drove visual attention back the screen more than any other creative element of the advertising was audio.  Music or other sounds during ads were responsible for 44% of ‘attention u
plifts’ identified in the video ethnography.  This highlights the fact that TV is not just a visual medium – sound is fundamental to the way that TV advertising works, particularly in an age of multi-screening.  Of course, visual elements of advertising can snatch attention from the edge of your peripheral vision, but this happened less frequently than it did for sound (32% of attention uplifts).
f you would like further information regarding this research please contact 
Oliver Robertson at or 
Nicole Greenfield-Smith at