Social TV: A World-First Study


By James Hier

The growth in social media interaction on second screens is well documented, but the impact this has on TV viewing is unclear. Conventional wisdom assumes that viewers using second screens are distracted, experiencing lower engagement with the TV broadcast.

But is this right? How exactly does the second screen impact viewing? Is Social TV a threat, or an opportunity for broadcasters and advertisers? With advertisers spending millions annually on TV sponsorships, clarity around viewer engagement is crucial.

MEC wanted to discover whether engagement levels with a TV program changed after social media interaction.

Meaningful, credible insights required measurement in a real-time viewing situation, with social media interaction occurring naturally. Research of this nature had not been conducted anywhere in the world. This is something that is impossible for people to articulate through crude measures of recall, or attitudinal research. It required a bespoke methodology and new technology to accurately measure this impact.

MEC partnered with Australia’s most watched TV broadcaster, the Seven Network, and Neuro-Insight, a world leader in neurological tracking technology, to carry out the research. Neuro-Insight developed a bespoke methodology and technology for this task, enabling the study partners to contrast the different behavioural states to measure the neurological change before, during and after social interaction.


50 people were recruited, comprised of typical social media interactors.

The Neuro-Insights research facility was fitted out with TV screens and equipment to measure neurological activity. Hidden cameras were installed to monitor second-screen activity as they watched live TV.

Participants watched a live broadcast of the Seven Network’s reality show X-Factor, while wearing equipment to measure their neurological activity. Neuro-Insight left the viewers to their own devices as they watched the broadcast and interacted on social media. Second-screen activity was unsolicited. Any interaction with social media occurred naturally. Respondents had no way of consciously influencing results.

Never before has a study been done that measures neurological responses to live TV viewing, at such a granular level, with such a robust a sample.


The research challenges conventional thinking. It disproves the theory that second-screen usage during TV viewing negatively impacts audience engagement.

This is great news for advertisers as it substantiates the value of TV sponsorships and social media extensions. Brands that are fully integrated in a TV show can capitalise on the higher intensity of engagement, improving the effectiveness of their marketing investment.


• Interacting with social media while watching TV drives a 9% increase in program engagement

• Average social media interaction during a TV program: 4 times

• These interactions serve as “reset moments” after which viewers return to an engagement level higher than before

• Throughout the program, cumulative increase in engagement is 26%

• Second-screen interaction positively impacts Detailed Memory Encoding – the ability to remember specific elements of the broadcast


• Social TV and second-screen interaction result in a more engaged audience

• Brands that are fully integrated in a TV show can capitalise on the higher intensity of engagement, improving effectiveness

• Advertising messages should exploit viewers’ heightened receptivity to details

• The type and timing of advertising messages within a program can be optimised

Results will be unveiled at the Advertising Research Foundation’s New York conference in June.

About the author

James Hier loves media. A lot. It’s all he likes to talk about. Oh, and history. He’s worked in 26 markets around the world while consulting for the Unilever Marketing Academy and worked in both creative and media agencies. He currently works at the media agency network MEC as Chief Strategy Officer where he has lots of friends.

About the company

MEC is one of the world’s leading media agencies and a founding partner of GroupM. It employs over 4,400 people in more than 150 offices across 84 countries. Clients in Australia include Mitsubishi, Colgate Palmolive, Paramount, Campbell Arnott’s, Allianz Australia, Schwarzkopf and Activision Blizzard. MEC offers services including media planning and buying, digital media, social media, search, performance marketing, analytics & insight, content, retail and integrated planning.

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