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January 31, 2013

Prof: TV advertisers losing distracted viewers to cells, tablets

Glenn Sparks

  Glenn Sparks
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Advertisers are losing their captive audience as millions balance watching television while multitasking on their cell phones or computer tablets, says a Purdue University communication expert.

"As a result, the television industry is scrambling to engage viewers again," says Glenn Sparks, who studies mass media effects and interpersonal relationships. "This has been an industry issue for a couple of years, and we'll continue to see a variety of platforms, split screens or other solutions being tested as they adapt."

Last spring, the Pew Research Center reported that half of adult cell phone owners use their smartphones while watching TV. Sparks says this trend also is affecting cable television and advertisers who are looking for other ways to integrate media platforms to keep advertisers in front of viewers. Some current examples include programs that encourage viewers to follow a show-specific Twitter hashtag during the show.

As advertisers and others explore technologies, platforms and strategies to put commercials in front of viewers again, Sparks says it is important to understand why these connected viewers are disconnecting from television.

"People are drawn to this kind of multitasking because of the emotional gratification it provides when messages are received or information is updated," Sparks says. "But, the truth is that people are fooling themselves when they believe they can do all this efficiently.

"Multitasking is really a myth. Instead of paying attention to multiple channels at the same time, people switch their attention back and forth from one thing to the other. While it may seem like all of the information from multiple channels is being processed and retained, we know from research that this simply isn't the case."

Sparks is co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection," which was published in 2002. Sparks and the book's co-author, Will Miller, say that as people move farther away and are more engaged in media, there is a greater void in face-to-face relationships.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Glenn Sparks, gsparks@purdue.edu