Parallel Use of TV and the Internet: Is the Internet the New Ironing?

Parallel Use of TV and the Internet: Is the Internet the New Ironing?

An article by Fabian Huber about second screen usage from two perspectives

Not a Case of Competition between the Internet and TV

Multitasking is now the norm everywhere you look. Whether users are at home, on their way to work, or in the office: Doing multiple things at the same time has been part of everyday life since smartphones went mainstream. But has the smartphone now also become part of our everyday TV viewing habits? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this change as far as TV advertising is concerned?

At the start of 2015, German TV broadcaster ZDF launched the new ZDF app, which allows viewers to access background information about the live image or interact with the program being broadcast.[1] German TV channel RTL also gives viewers the opportunity to take part in the TV program using their mobile phone via the RTL Inside app. These apps are creating a bridge between the TV and the online world. It appears that TV broadcasters are increasingly realizing that viewers are using TV and the Internet in parallel. In years gone by, people used to do their ironing while watching TV, but it seems that perhaps people now prefer to use the Internet. Developments in the amount of time that people spend watching TV and surfing the Internet also suggest that parallel use of the Internet will continue to grow. According to the ARD/ZDF 2014 Online Study, there has been a significant increase in Internet use. The average amount of time the average German spent surfing the Internet each day in 2006 was 116 minutes. This increased to 137 minutes in 2012, and by 2014 it had increased again to 166 minutes.[2] The average German now spends an average of almost three hours per day online. The amount of time that people spending watching TV worldwide remains stable at a high level. According to calculations made by AGF, the German TV audience research cooperative, the average German spent 222 minutes per day watching TV in 2012, 221 minutes in 2013 and 242 minutes in 2014.[3] The steady amount of time spent watching TV and the simultaneous increase in the time spent surfing the Internet suggests that a higher level of Internet use has not been detrimental to TV viewing time. Dirk Steffen, Deputy Managing Director and Head of Media Research at TNS Infratest, believes that the Internet and TV are not in competition but instead complement each other.[4] The two media can complement each other either simultaneously or sequentially. In the United States, parallel use of TV and a smartphone or TV and a tablet PC is already well pronounced. According to a study by Nielsen in 2012, almost one third of Americans uses these devices several times per day while watching TV.

In Germany, only approximately one in every ten people uses these devices multiple times per day while watching TV. However, around two thirds say that they have used them in parallel at some point. The interest is there in Germany, yet the frequency is not (yet) as high as in other countries. This change in viewing habits is still in its infancy, but strong growth in simultaneous Internet use has also become apparent in Germany, particularly in the last few years. According to a study conducted by SevenOne Media/Forsa in 2014, a total of 75% of the approx.10,000 respondents in the 14–49 age group said that they watch TV and surf the Internet at the same time at least occasionally. In the space of two years, this value had increased by approximately 27%. The 40% who said they used both TV and the Internet in parallel frequently was particularly high, and had doubled within a short period of time. In 2010 the equivalent figure for parallel use was just 18%.[5]

Parallel use within the younger age group in particular is gaining in importance: The ARD/ZDF 2014 Online Study has shown that among 14–29-year-olds, almost half of the respondents now use the Internet and TV in parallel more than they did in previous years. Within the 30–49 age group, 29% admitted to using the two media at the same time more often than before, and in the 50–69 age group the figure was 14%.[6]

The Difference between Parallel Use and Second Screen Usage

The concept of “multi-screening” relates to the use of multiple screens (smartphone, TV, tablet PC, laptop) and can be divided into two categories: Simultaneous multi-screening describes the simultaneous use of multiple screens (e.g. laptop and smartphone), while sequential multi-screening refers to the use of multiple screens one after the other (e.g. the laptop in the office and the tablet PC at home).[7] The term “parallel use” refers to simultaneous multi-screening and is used when one of the screens being used at the same time is the TV. Within this category it is possible to differentiate between “content-dependent” activities and “non-content-oriented” activities. Non-content-oriented means that the activities on the mobile device have nothing to do with the TV program being shown. An example of this would be writing an email while watching TV. Content-dependent activities are related to the TV program being watched; for example, this may include accessing background information on a football game currently being broadcast or taking part in a viewer poll. Around a third of all parallel activities performed online while watching TV are content-dependent.[8] These activities can also be described as second screen usage. Authors Busemann and Tippelt also define second screen usage as program-related parallel use.[9] Parallel use is therefore a prerequisite for second screen usage, which can be seen as a special form of parallel use.


Second Screen Activities

Content-dependent, i.e. second screen activities, can be grouped into three categories: information, communication and interaction. The first category includes searching for background information on a product straight after seeing it advertised on TV. The second category includes commenting on or sharing a TV program on social media. When viewers take an active part in a TV show, for example by voting for their favorite candidates, this is what is meant by interaction. According to a study by SevenOne Media GmbH, viewers are least likely to use the Internet to interact with what they are watching on TV (6%). Looking for information about the program the viewer is watching (49%) and about products mentioned on TV programs (38%) and commercials (35%) are the most popular activities.[10] It is expected that more viewers will use the Internet to interact with TV shows in the near future as more interactive services become available on the German market. Mobile devices also appear to offer the best conditions for successful interaction. A mobile device has a high degree of interactivity because the user can tailor the viewing experience or their evening in front of the TV to their individual needs.

Strengths, Weaknesses and Success Factors of Second-Screen Advertising

The latest developments show that more and more viewers are frequently sitting in front of the TV and using their mobile device at the same time. This development also affects the future of TV advertising. After all, second-screen advertising offers significant advantages for advertisers. The mobile device provides a return channel via which data can be obtained and evaluated in real time. This is what makes it possible to immediately display individual offers on mobile devices.[11] It has also been demonstrated that this method increases the recognition factor of a commercial.[12] The brand image can also be positively influenced by second-screen advertising.[13] The ability to purchase products directly from the commercial offers particularly great potential. According to a study by SevenOne Media and Forsa, 80% of viewers have purchased a product online straight after having seen it in a commercial on TV. One quarter of respondents even stated that they do this on a regular basis.[14]

It is important to mention here that second-screen advertising also has weaknesses as well as strengths, in particular the risk that the viewers may switch to non-content oriented activities. However, the weaknesses are certainly outweighed by the strengths. Various studies and analyses have revealed 10 key factors for the success of a second-screen advertisement. The five most important success factors are:

  • Appealing to a younger age group
  • Using a responsive design that is easy to operate
  • Accounting for factor levels (information, communication and interaction)
  • Enabling purchases to be made directly
  • Ensuring synchronization (via Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology)

The Internet rather than Household Chores

By accounting for success factors, second-screen advertising can be a successful solution for adapting traditional TV advertising to future audience viewing habits. A significant increase in parallel use is expected in Germany as younger generations gradually replace older viewers and the range of interactive services offered by TV channels increases. Parallel use provides a new quality benchmark and great potential for viewers, TV broadcasters and advertisers alike. For this reason, in the long term we can expect that the Internet will be established as the main secondary activity while watching TV in Germany, and will replace household chores (such as ironing) and making phone calls, which were previously the most popular secondary activity.[15] In any case, this change will lead to the concept of watching TV becoming more of a digital experience and therefore more customized. A relaxed do-it-yourself evening in front of the TV will now allow viewers to do something that they are already familiar with from everyday life: multitasking. However, how relaxing having a more pro-active relationship with the TV will really be would be an interesting topic for further research.



[Article by Fabian Huber, ETECTURE 2015]

[1] See ZDF (2015),

[2] See ARD/ZDF Online Study (2014a),

[3] See AGF (2013),

[4] See Bröder, J. (2014), p. 25.

[5] See SevenOne Media/Forsa (2014), p. 38.

[6] See ARD/ZDF Online Study (2014b),

[7] See Google Inc. (2012), p. 17.

[8] See ARD/ZDF Online Study (2014b) and TNS Infratest (2013), p. 10.

[9] See Busemann, K./Tippelt, F. (2014), p. 408.

[10] See SevenOne Media GmbH (2013), p. 8.

[11]See Mavridis, T. (2014),

[12] See Ipsos GmbH (2014), p. 29.

[13] See Absatzwirtschaft magazine (2014),

[14] See SevenOne Media/Forsa (2014), p. 41.

[15] See SevenOne Media/Forsa (2014), p. 37.