In the good old days the ad break in Coronation Street would trigger a surge of demand on the National Grid as viewers got up en masse to make a cup of tea. Today, the smartphone is replacing the tea break as the distraction of choice for Britain's couch potatoes.
However, the smartphone is also a constant distraction from consumers' wider TV viewing, not solely a quick diversion during the ad break. For younger consumers at least, their smartphone is an ever-present significant other, leaving brands with the conundrum of how to better navigate the second screen.
Using a laptop or another internet-enabled second screen in front of the TV is not new behaviour. However, the fact remains that few brands are capitalising on this trend. Industry experts say that brands should not assume that the TV is at the top of the living-room marketing pyramid. When thinking about the second screen, the first thing for marketers to establish is which device that is.
David Wilding, head of planning at PHD Media, says that while the TV industry is hard at work talking up the power of the medium to prompt social-media conversations, there is an argument that it is precisely the TV, not the smartphone or iPad, that is the secondary screen and, therefore, no longer the main focus of consumers' attention.
'In a way, TV has always been the second screen,' explains Wilding. 'You can't assume 100% attention from consumers all of the time. Rather than everything being led by the TV, there has always been a wealth of other things competing for consumers' attention.'
Working in tandem
However, Lindsay Clay, managing director at commercial TV's marketing body, Thinkbox, disputes this. She says the notion that television is the secondary screen comes from a misunderstanding of how the two screens work in tandem.
'Consumers might say that a smartphone is their preferred device, but you cannot confuse content with devices,' she contends. Clay adds that television has always been a 'highly social medium' in that viewers always talk to other people in the room about what they are watching.
'Social media has brought a whole new level of engagement and enjoyment, but it is not a new trend. It is just a different platform,' she says.
Regardless of whether it is the primary or secondary screen, there is no denying, however, that mobile has a growing role as a direct sales channel. According to research released this month by IBM's Coremetrics Online Benchmark data, the proportion of all traffic to retailers' websites from mobile devices will rise to about 15% next month.
Last December, the level was 5.6%, but it has risen steadily, reaching 12% in October. Mobile sales reached a high of 11% of all online sales in October, up from 3.1% in the same month in 2010. The research also revealed that social media plays a key part in improving conversion rates, standing at 7.6% for consumers who are directed to a retail site via a social-media site.
Broadcasters have also begun to harness the role of mobile in driving excitement around their shows. ITV show The Only Way is Essex used QR codes on screen throughout episodes, offering viewers exclusive content. Elsewhere, the cast often tweet along during shows such as Jersey Shore, Made in Chelsea and Glee.
Phil Nunn, communications planning architect at advertising agency network Draftfcb, agrees that multi-screen consumption is a major opportunity and has already proved valuable in expanding the viewer's experience.
'The challenge is one for advertisers, rather than broadcasters,' he says. He explains that the shift in viewing habits means advertising messages have to be salient for longer, more engaging, and, ultimately, more exciting, to persuade a viewer to pause and play before continuing to their original content. 'Those that should fear this the most are those that think TV is about the 30 seconds of simple information delivery,' adds Nunn.
While Marks & Spencer may have signed a big-budget deal to be the official clothing partner of The X Factor, online retailer ASOS is gaining significant buzz because contestants are wearing its clothing.
In addition, there is no doubt that broadcasters have a commercial interest in formalising these relationships. However, because social conversations continue to occur on platforms not owned by traditional broadcasters, such as Facebook and Twitter, the balance of power is shifting away from them.
Dominic Burns, senior vice-president of licensing at FremantleMedia, which produces The X Factor, says the challenge in the UK market is regulation around product placement, which, despite the recent relaxation in the rules, remains quite stringent.
Consumers will not, then, be hovering their mobiles over the screen to use image-recognition functions to purchase products directly from their favourite shows any time soon, according to Burns.
However, while technology is still evolving, marketers should be wary of taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to social TV. Certainly, for marketers looking to get to grips with the second screen, the success of Yeo Valley, which has used a dual-screen approach to help it evolve into a mass-market brand, has proved the potential rewards of the strategy.
The dairy brand built phenomenal buzz on social media through its 'Rapping farmers' ad last year, and the launch of this year's farming-inspired boy band 'The Churned'. Kevin Brown, director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty London, which created the campaigns, says that marketers have become too scientific about measuring creativity, when the real challenge is about creating better content.
'Multiple screens present a massively exciting agenda, which calls for bigger and better ideas that can be developed across multiple platforms,' he adds.
For marketers seeking to embrace the power of social TV, this is only the beginning of the journey.
Expert guidance from Leroyson Figueira, digital creative director, Haygarth
- Before/during/after Second-screen media has unique opportunities for before and after a show.
- Show viewings Very few shows are making use of this engagement time. This is especially important to keep ongoing interaction with 'time-shift' viewers.
- Second-screen apps Not enough brands are using Facebook and mobile apps, such as Get Glue, to trigger viewing 'check-ins'.
- More than Twitter At the moment, a lot of social-media activity revolves around Twitter. There are more platforms and networks available to harness.
- 48% of homes can 'time-shift' (ie have access to Sky+ or a similar technology).
- In these homes, 85% of TV is still viewed live, as that is the way most consumers prefer to watch (because we like sharing experiences with other people).
- 15% of TV viewing in homes with a digital TV recorder is capable of being time-shifted.
- Of the 15% that is time-shifted, 35% is still watched with the ads at normal speed.
- BARB doesn't count fast-forwarded ads. Research by Duckfoot has shown, however, that if you have seen an ad once at normal speed, you will have roughly 65% of the recall when you see it fast-forwarded.