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How Consumer Multitasking Impacts TV Advertisers


In America, we live in an age of abundant media -- where new content options add to the spectrum of traditional content from which people can choose. Online video, social networking and other digital media options are occupying increasing amounts of time.

Mobile network broadband connectivity further extends our access to digital content throughout the day. Meanwhile, legacy broadcast TV is still popular, but there's a constant distraction (especially during commercials) -- and it's called multitasking.

"For marketers, the age of multitasking means consumers are available to receive multiple streams of messages at the same time," said Mark Dolliver, media analyst at eMarketer. "But multitasking also yields an audience whose attention is divided."

eMarketer estimates that U.S. adults fit more than 11 hours of media content consumption into an average day in 2011, that's double-counting for simultaneous media usage.

For marketers, the downside of multitasking is self-evident: there is no such thing as a captive audience. But in interviews with eMarketer, some pundits say they believe there's a potential upside -- if marketers seek creative ways to captivate consumer interest across media.

Opportunities arise in cases where multitasking builds attention around a body of content rather than dispersing it across unrelated activities.

As an example, 19 percent of smartphone and tablet owners surveyed in Q3 2011 by Nielsen reported using their mobile devices to seek information related to a TV commercial.

That compares with the findings of a Q2 2011 Ipsos MediaCT survey of online consumers. Asked about activities they engage in while watching TV, 16 percent of respondents in that survey said they visit websites because of ads they've seen.

According to eMarketer's assessment, advertisers that are prepared to connect with consumers on multiple platforms -- with useful things to say in each -- can engage its audience more deeply than ever before.

They believe that there's greater benefits for the savvy marketers, and more of a penalty for those producing consistently boring or irrelevant content.

Sometimes, being smart will mean not interrupting consumers with messages they don't need or want. In the age of multitasking, an essential task for marketers will be to make sure they're not wasting people's time.

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