via press release:
Distracted TV Viewers

Most Americans surf online while watching TV and many people do other activities as well

NEW YORK, June 15, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — The invention of the DVR system presented a hurdle for television advertisers, as they worried their valued audience would fast-forward through their messages.  While those concerns may have merit, a recent Adweek/Harris Poll shows that regardless of the ability to use a DVR system, Americans may not be giving their undivided attention to their TV screens.  According to the recent survey, while watching TV most Americans also surf the Internet (56%) and many do other activities like read a book, magazine or newspaper (44%), go on a social networking site (40%) or text on their mobile phone (37%).

These are some of the findings of a recent Adweek/ Harris Poll survey of 2,309 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 24 and 26, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

Additional findings include:

  • Three in ten say they shop online while watching TV (29%);
  • Few say they read a book on an eReader device while watching TV (7%) although over two in five admit to reading a traditional book, magazine or newspaper (44%) while watching TV;
  • Similarly small numbers surf the Internet on a tablet computer while watching TV although a majority do so on a regular computer (56%) and 18% do so on their mobile phone;
  • Three in ten Americans say they do something else while watching TV (30%) and only 14% say they do not do any other activity while they watch TV.

Looking at how various groups experience television, younger adults are more likely than those older to surf the Internet on a computer or mobile phone, go on a social networking site, text on their mobile phone and shop online.  While watching TV older adults are slightly more likely than those younger to read a book, magazine or newspaper, and much more likely to do nothing else.

Women are more likely than men to do each of the activities listed while watching TV, with the exception of surfing the Internet on a mobile phone (20% vs. 16%) or on a tablet computer (8% vs. 6%) which men do at slightly higher rates.  Those who have graduated from college are also more likely than those who have not attended any college to do each of the activities listed while watching TV.

So What?

Almost all Americans watch TV–only 3% say they do not–yet it’s unclear how engaged all of these television viewers really are.  The results of this poll are interesting, and may speak to various components of contemporary American life.  For example, it’s possible that because Americans have little free time, they opt to do several leisure activities at once, which some might argue could actually induce rather than relieve stress.  Another thought is that because Americans are constantly bombarded by content (on the Internet, through social media, etc) that one source of information and entertainment (i.e. watching a program on TV) leaves today’s viewers under-stimulated and craving more.  Either way, it is interesting to contemplate; one might only wish we might had begun this research years ago, so that we could look at a trend.


“Which of the following, if any, do you ever do
while watching TV?

Please select all that apply.
While I watch television I also…”

Base: All U.S. adults

Total Age Gender Education
18-34 35-44 45-54 55+ Male Female H.S. or less Some college College grad +
% % % % % % % % % %
Surf the Internet using a computer 56 68 59 55 45 53 59 52 57 62
Read a book, magazine or newspaper 44 42 41 44 47 37 51 35 50 51
Go on a social networking site (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) 40 57 47 36 21 34 45 33 44 46
Text on my mobile phone 37 57 46 38 14 35 39 28 41 47
Shop online 29 40 33 27 19 27 31 22 31 39
Surf the Internet using my mobile phone 18 30 23 15 6 20 16 10 19 29
Read a book on an eReader device (e.g. Kindle, Nook) 7 6 8 9 7 6 9 5 10 9
Surf the Internet on a tablet computer (e.g. iPad, Xoom) 7 7 13 4 5 8 6 6 5 11
Something else 30 32 26 28 30 26 33 26 33 32
None 14 8 12 16 20 18 11 19 12 10
Not applicable – I do not watch television 3 5 3 2 2 4 2 3 2 4
Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


This Adweek/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between May 24 and 26, 2011among 2,309 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll ® #73, June 15, 2011
By Samantha Braverman, Sr. Project Researcher, Harris Interactive


Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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