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TV viewers 'aren't interested' in mobile companion apps

Tuesday, April 19th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

TV viewers don’t want to use mobile ‘companion apps’ while watching their favourite shows, an expert has claimed.

A growing number of programmes, including The Walking Dead and Britain’s Got Talent, have launched apps that allow viewers to interact with TV shows using a ‘second screen’ – their smartphone or tablet.

And a recent report by Accenture suggested 87% of people now use a second screen while watching TV.

But Sherryl Wilson, a media and cultural studies lecturer at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), said audiences often aren’t interested in such apps – particularly when watching their favourite dramas.

In a study conducted by Dr Wilson, participants only reached for their phones when watching quiz shows or reality TV, snubbing their second screens entirely when completely engrossed in a programme.

“Broadcasters and programme makers see second screens as a way of capturing an increasingly difficult to get hold of commodity – attention, and monetising it,” said Dr Wilson.

“But the industry is living in great expectation rather than looking at what the reality is.”

She said participants in her study who were immersed in a drama switched off their phones so they wouldn’t be distracted.

'Amazing apps'

“This wasn't something we were expecting. They were most likely to go to a second screen when watching shows that are already quite social, like quiz shows, game shows and reality TV shows.

“There are some amazing apps out there, including one for The Walking Dead in which you can guess the number of zombies that have been killed, but the sample in my study were not interested in things like that.”

Dr Wilson said her findings show a lack of understanding by tech companies about audience viewing behaviour.

“Industry doesn't understand TV audiences – it makes assumptions about them. It thinks TV is laid back and passive, and that new media and digital technology is leaning forward and active.

“But this isn't true because there is no single way of watching television. The industry doesn't recognise the different ways of watching television and the pleasures that come from them.”

Dr Wilson's research, In the Living Room: Second Screens and TV Audiences, was published in Television and New Media.

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