When It Comes to Ad Avoidance, the DVR Is Not the Problem–Turns Out Smartphones and Other Media Are a Bigger Distraction

May 25, 2011  •  Post A Comment

By Brian Monahan
Advertising Age

The advertising industry has long been concerned about new technology that aids ad avoidance. While much attention has been focused on the impact of DVRs, new research from the IPG Media Lab and YuMe shows the real threat to attention is the smart phone and other increasingly ubiquitous distraction media.

The study quantified some long-suspected but never quantified aspects of media behavior. Distraction media was ubiquitous, with 94% of TV and 73% of online video viewers using some type of companion/distraction media. While companion media included everything from laptops, video games and crossword puzzles to physical mail and musical instruments, the smartphone proved to be the true "disruptor" in regards to video attention levels. Of all of the companion media used, the smartphone accounted for 60% of TV and 46% of online video distractions.

Some common video patterns were observed:

Participants watched content, but turned to companion media during advertising.

Participants multitasked with companion media at all times.

Participants displayed relatively consistent viewing, but exhibited low emotional or intellectual engagement.

The study, conducted this spring at the IPG Media Lab in Los Angeles, tracked 48 adult participants. The participants reflected the general population of regular consumers of online video. Participants watched 30 minutes of TV video in the Lab’s living room and 30 minutes of video on a desktop PC in an office scenario. Participants were contacted ahead of time to make sure that their video content preferences were available to them (e.g. shows pre-recorded on the DVR and bookmarked to favorite video websites). Participants were also instructed to bring and use whatever devices or distractions they normally use when they are watching video.

Using the biometric tool Affectiva, participants’ "face-towards-screen" was calculated frame by frame. Affectiva was also used to monitor emotional and intellectual engagement. All content was time-stamped to correlate attention to the content on display at that moment.

It was found that simply turning one’s head to ignore video ads had far greater impact than DVR fast-forwarding is assumed to have. Magna Global estimates that 35% of U.S. households have DVRs and 10% of their total TV consumption is time shifted, within which 65% of ads are fast forwarded, meaning 35% x 10% x 65% = 2% of total TV ad impressions are avoided through fast forwarding. Our study found that 63% of TV impressions were avoided simply by not paying attention to the screen.

Content watched online had slightly higher attention levels than content watched on TV (60% vs. 52%). TV attention levels had three times the drop-off of video when the programming went to commercial break. As a result, online video ads received 18% more attention than TV video ads (55% vs. 37%).

Attention levels were also correlated with advertising recall. Ads that had both aided and unaided recall had higher attention levels than unremembered ads. Online video ads had an even higher advantage than TV video ads for ad recall. Online ads had 1.8 times aided and 1.5 times unaided recall as TV video ads.

Both genders paid relatively equal attention to online and TV video content and ads. However, women were more likely to recall the ads to which they were exposed. Ad attention dropped off the longer an ad was on screen.

When participants did use the DVR to fast forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads. Despite the advantage of eyes on screen, fast-forwarded ads had much lower recall than non-fast-forwarded ads.

As overall time spent watching TV and online video continues to grow, the steady creep of ubiquitous connectivity is profoundly changing video viewing behavior. The challenge is not moving one’s thumb to push fast-forward, but rather moving one’s head to look at their smartphone. Online video, with a less predictable cadence and an active user experience, does a significantly better job at holding attention. While distraction media is a threat to the value of video advertising, it also represents an opportunity to deliver a deeper companion experience to the on-screen content and ads. The consumers have the tools; it’s up to the industry to give them compelling content.

Brian Monahan is the exec VP of IPG Media Lab.


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