Will We All Soon Have ADHD?

No, I’m not referring to some new form of advanced-digital high-definition-whatever. I do mean the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. According to a recent study by the Nielsen Company, 88 percent of U.S. tablet owners and 86 percent of smartphone owners said they used their device while watching TV at least once during a 30-day period. For 45 percent of U.S. tablet users, using their device while watching TV was a daily event, with 26 percent noting simultaneous TV and tablet use several times a day. U.S. smartphone owners showed similar dual usage of TV with their phones, with 41 percent saying they use their phone at least once a day while tuned in.

Nielsen determined these numbers in a Q4’11 survey of connected device owners in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Italy. Device owners in the U.K. similarly paralleled TV watching at 80 percent for tablets and 78 percent for smartphones. And, 24 percent of those surveyed claimed to use their device several times a day while watching TV.

When asked if they never use a tablet while watching TV, Americans scored the lowest rating at 12 percent followed by those in the UK at 20 percent. Italians and Germans came in at 29 percent. (Gee, could tablet overload be an affliction limited to English-speaking countries?).

This data also surfaced at the Technology Summit on Cinema, which was held just prior to the opening of NAB, with speakers wondering when and if portable devices would be used in the theater (see further coverage in the upcoming May issue of Large Display Report).

Across all countries, the most frequent tablet or smartphone activity while watching TV was checking email — either during a commercial break or during the show. But device owners also seem to engage with content related to the TV too, either by looking up information about the show or looking for deals and general information on products advertised on the show.

Analysts at Forrester Research uncovered similar numbers in their own survey, with 85 percent of U.S. tablet owners using their tablets while watching TV. But another interesting trend is developing: a surprisingly high percentage of tablet owners — 18 percent — say they connect their tablets to their TVs via HDMI or VGA cables, relegating the big screen to a dumb display. (So much for Smart TV.)

Forrester also found that 32 percent of tablet owners say they won’t buy a TV smaller than 24 inch in the future, compared with only 7 percent who say the same about large TVs. But, they also say they watch more online video overall since getting a tablet.

People just can’t get enough of their tablets, apparently, something the TV broadcasters have noticed. I’m writing this from the 2012 NAB conference in Las Vegas, and scanning down the broadcasters’ conference program, there’s no shortage of sessions about tablets, second screens and multi-platform business models. Is this the new norm? Will moving pictures increasingly pervade every device and surface with which we come into contact? Will we all soon crave media walls in our homes? Is the unending display of entertainment content, emerging from every conceivable transducer, sapping our ability even to concentrate on just one? What happened to the good old days of the couch potato entranced by the idiot box?

OK, let me calm down. Perhaps it’s just the jet lag. All is not lost — we can still thank the FAA for 10 minutes of zero personal electronics during aircraft ascent and descent, right? But seriously, put the smartphone down when you’re driving, please?

Aldo Cugnini is an analyst for Insight Media. Reach him at aldo@insightmedia.info