How smartphone penetration drives second screen usage

At ComingNext.TV we are constantly researching the development and growth of smartphones and tablets worldwide. As the penetration of smartphones and tablets across the globe continues to rise, people are increasingly using them while watching television. As a result the viewers attention is fragmented over multiple screens and the effectiveness of the first screen drops. Broadcasters are trying to reverse this trend by making the second screen relevant while watching TV. Personal, interactive and connected devices offer new opportunities for interaction, additional touch points, direct transactions, and data gathering.

Media multitasking

A recent study by MillwardBrown (2014) found that ‘of the total time screens are being viewed, simultaneous use with TV is taking place around a third of the time’. Simultaneous usage goes up to 41% in the USA and 47% in the Philippines. Of this simultaneous usage 62% is totaly unrelated to what is happening on the first screen. The main reasons for unrelated usage is to fill time during ad breaks (42%) or to keep up with friends on social media that is not TV related (39%).

Percentage of screen use on one device at a time — 65%

Percentage of screen use that is simultaneous — 35%

The research shows that in most countries, smartphones are now the primary screen, taking up 2,5 hours of time daily (vs. 1,5 hour for TV). Smartphones and laptops dominate daytime screen use while TV takes center stage in the evenings, when tablet use also peaks. As more viewers are using multiple devices while watching TV their attention dilutes. Unrelated second screening results in a loss of viewership, a decrease in ad effectiveness and an intensified competition from online platforms.


Of smartphone and tablet owners 
use a second screen while watching TV.

A related research by Nielsen (2014) found that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners in the U.S. use them as a second screen device while watching TV.

Connected devices such as smartphones and tablets have become constant companions to consumers on the go and in the home. 84% of smartphone and tablet owners say they use their devices as second-screens while watching TV at the same time. Nielsen The U.S. Digital Consumer Report, 2014

These developments support our own research in the relationship between smartphone penetration and multitasking while watching TV. We see an exponential growth in the adoption of smartphones and multitasking.

Smartphone penetration

Smartphone penetration is an important driver of multitasking behaviour. A recent study by eMarketer shows that in 2018 almost 50% of mobile phone users will own a smartphone. This year the total number of smartphone users will grow with over 25%. A rapid growth of smartphone users will have a direct effect on the percentage of second screen usage in a country.

eMarketer - Smartphone user and penetration worldwide

The research also looked at the moment when over 50% of the population of a country will own a smartphone. If we focus on the figures from Europe we see that the majority of countries will reach this level in 2015 while the nordics are frontrunners in smartphone adoption.

…three Nordic countries reach 50% penetration last year, and this year, the Netherlands and UK will join them. In 2015, a raft of other countries, including the rest of the EU-5, will make the majority smartphone jump. eMarketer Worldwide Smartphone Usage, 2014

With a smartphone penetration of 60% we expect that 75-80% of viewers are multitasking while watching TV. With these growth numbers in Europe this will become a huge challenge for the broadcasters to keep their audience engaged.

eMarketer - Year select countries in Western Europe will pass 50% of smartphone penetration

Our research

To understand the development of media multitasking over time, we plotted smartphone penetration against the research figures on multitasking. For this research we mainly use local research reports which slightly differ from the results from eMarketer. Our research shows a connection between the two metrics which allows us to predict the expected percentage of second screen usage based on the growth in smartphone penetration. Especially for developing countries that see a rapid adoption of smartphones this can be an important metric to convince broadcasters and advertisers to jump on the second screen bandwagon. For example, we expect second screen usage in Chile to grow from around 45% now to over 75% in 2018 when smartphone penetration will cross the 60% line.

How smartphone penetration drives second screen usage.

© ComingNext.TV – 2014


Luckily there are many opportunities for broadcasters to engage with second screen users at home. When a broadcaster is able to make the second screen usage related to the first screen it can increases tune-in, retain ad effectiveness, monetize on additional commercial models, and have insight in deeper viewer data. The MillwardBrown research analysed multiscreen marketing opportunities based on the level it is noticed and received by the audience.



Globally, micro-video is the most familiar and popular marketing format. This suggests that multinational marketers should invest here to develop bite-sized content that can transfer easily across screens. TV ads promoting mobile apps, Facebook pages and websites are also familiar. Receptivity is high for TV ads with interactivity. MillwardBrown 2014 Multiscreen opportunity plot – marketing approaches

Our research shows that smartphone penetration is a good indicator for the percentage of viewers that are multitasking while watching TV. Our model can be used to predict the development of media multitasking in different countries. For a broadcaster multitasking provides new challenges and opportunities. Understanding market developments is key in making sure that you stay relevant for your viewer and stay ahead of your competition.

Contact us if you want to know more about our continuous market research or how you can benefit from a multiscreen strategy.

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