‘Second screen experience’: Ryerson researchers delve into new social media phenomenon

It’s common knowledge that Twitter is one of the world’s leading platforms for exchanges of opinion. But recently, people have taken the social media behemoth to a whole new level by tweeting their reactions in real-time as they watch TV.

The phenomenon, dubbed the ‘Second Screen Experience’, has become so widespread that experts have begun researching the television viewers who share their thoughts on their favourite shows while they air.

Lama Khoshaim, a PHD student studying social media at Dalhousie University, is the lead researcher on a study of how and why TV audiences use social media to talk about what they’re watching. She said the social science study could generate lessons for TV advertisers.

A student exchanges opinions on a television show, while watching said show. Ryerson researchers say are exploring this phenomenon, dubbed the "second screen experience."

A student exchanges opinions on a television show, while watching said show. Ryerson researchers are exploring this phenomenon, dubbed the “second screen experience.” (Dasha Zolota/ Ryersonian Staff)

More than 84 per cent of Americans who own tablets and smartphones use their gadgets while watching TV, according to Nielsen ratings data.

Khoshaim first proposed a research of the subject to Ryerson associate professor Anatoliy Gruzd in the fall of 2013. Gruzd, also the director of Ryerson’s Social Media Lab,  agreed that the Second Screen phenomenon was an area yet to be thoroughly explored.

The duo assembled a team of researchers and started running experiments in March, where two groups of participants were given iPads and asked to watch an episode of FOX crime dramedy Bones in a lab environment. Using screen-capturing software, the researchers tracked how often they were distracted.

Focusing on Twitter use, the team tracked what participants posted. Video cameras were set up to catch any off-screen, face-to-face conversations.

One enthusiastic participant tweeted 32 times during the hour-long episode.

While there was fluctuation in the number of times viewers were distracted during the show, both groups appeared to ignore TV advertisements.

“They weren’t tweeting anything about the commercials,”  Khoshaim said. Participants talked amongst themselves during ad breaks.

Researchers concluded that advertisers could attract viewers’ attention through their “second screens” rather than through TV alone.

“Maybe marketers can engage whoever is watching … using hashtags, or a competition,” said Khoshaim. “People would pay more attention to that product.”

But the manager of video and mobile at AOL Canada, Marla Natoli, said this kind of advertising is still a long way off. “I don’t think there’s a big enough value proposition for it to take off in a big way,” she said.

Natoli said marketers remain focused on drawing eyes to TV screens, rather than away from them to other devices. She says TV advertising simply brings in more money.

“If it’s making a whole lot more sense to be investing in mobile, it’s not actually a story that the broadcasters are in a hurry to know,” Natoli said. “They want their TV ad dollars coming in, because those are very lucrative ad dollars for them.”

Khoshaim said the team will continue its research with another similar study, where participants will be asked to fill out questionnaires on social media use before and after the TV experiment.

“It was an exploratory study,”  Khoshaim said. “With a questionnaire, we can focus and learn why they have different behaviours.”

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