Mobile Phones Are Staging A Revolution Against TV Remotes On The American Sofa

Matt Derella TwitterJim Edwards / BIMatt Derella

About 85% of Americans have a phone or tablet in their hands while watching TV, and 70% of all tweets on Twitter occur during programming rather than commercials.

The import of these stats is dramatic, according to Twitter VP of U.S. DSO sales Matt Derella, who spoke at an Advertising Week session Monday: “People don’t have the remote control in their hands” when they watch TV.

His argument is, in essence, that a second revolution is happening on American sofas. The first was when the remote control was introduced in the 1960s and 70s, and viewers were no longer victims of the inertia that occurred when the alternative was the long trek from the couch to tune the knob on the TV for the next broadcast station. Channel-flipping via remote began the destruction of network TV’s dominance in favour of cable channels’ more niche programming.

The second revolution is now upon us: Americans are less interested in the remote and more interested in contributing to the narrative surrounding the show through mobile-social media, namely Twitter, Derella believes.

According to data from Nielsen, only 30% of real-time tweets about television events are made during commercial breaks — meaning that viewers are not using social media as an alternative to watching ads.

The study found that the number of tweets made during a program’s commercial breaks was almost directly proportional to how much time the show spent in commercial, meaning that commercials did not cause a spike or decline in the amount of conversation surrounding the program.

Derella, highlighted this figure to urge marketers to leverage Twitter’s “second screen” to reach television viewers, saying that users were multi-tasking instead of flipping over to another show. “Instead of changing the channel, they’re tweeting during the program,” Derella said.

Derella also announced during the panel that Twitter had signed an advertising partnership with the CBS family of networks and online media properties.

The take-home for brands and networks is that commercial time is no longer a time viewers get up to use the bathroom or get a snack, but a period in which they continue to be invested in the content on their screens.

As a result, Mike Woods, head of the digital department at creative solutions company Framestore, said that marketers need to create content that engages viewers and challenges them to have an opinion on what they’re watching. In order to do this, he said brands might even reconsider the 30-second ad format.

“It’s not rocket science to suggest that people tweet opinion about stuff that’s worth having an opinion on,” Woods said. “Programs have a head start, in that they have the time to engage a viewer, whereas a 30 second spot has to go a long way to get us reaching for our devices. In the 30 second window, something is invariably either good or bad, and while there’s a place for this on Twitter, it’s not starting the engaging conversation that brands would hope for.”

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