The positive effects of "double screening"

By: Bill McCabe

A recent Nielsen study revealed that the increased use of internet-ready devices like smart phones is linked to a corresponding decline in television viewership, especially in the 18-34-year-old age group. On the surface, this trend seems like bad news for television advertisers. In fact, it’s probably the best news possible, at least for those who include a response option in their spots.

Our founder, Alvin Eicoff, who passed away before the dawn of the smart phone era, would have been ecstatic if someone told him that viewers could watch television with a phone/internet device in hand. As everyone knows, the easier it is to respond to an advertised offer, the more likely people will do exactly that. 

In the past, people watching television perhaps didn’t dial 800 numbers or visit a website because of logistics; they had to extricate themselves from the comfort of their chairs or sofas and trek across the room—or into another room entirely—to use a phone or computer.

A smart phone, of course, makes it much easier to call or click. Therefore, a relatively small decline in big-screen television viewership is more than offset by an increased number of viewers who are “double-screening”—watching television with smart phone in hand. 

Advertisers also benefit in another way from double-screeners: These viewers are more likely than single-screeners to create a buzz about a given commercial via social media. Again, the easier it is to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media when watching a spot, the more likely that viewers will “talk” about it.

I’d also suggest taking the Nielsen report with a grain of salt. Yes, television viewership may be declining from its peak, but it’s still reaching a huge audience. More significantly, the people who no longer watch television (or watch it less) are seeing the same commercials on different types of screens or through various streaming services. Commercials with 800 numbers and URLs now air on smart phones, laptops, tablets and even in movie theaters (where smart phone use is rampant before the feature starts). 

We have a tendency to focus on the catastrophic headline: TV IS A DYING MEDIUM. In fact, it’s never been healthier. The important thing is to embrace the changes that are occurring and take advantage of the right opportunities for you.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: A screen is a screen is a screen. A commercial with a motivating message will generate great results no matter the size or type of electronic screen. And if a viewer has two screens rather than one, well, a strong message will have twice the impact.