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Americans Multitask While Watching TV

Harris Interactive announced one of its recent surveys suggests that most Americans surf the Internet and do many other activities while watching TV.

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Unedited press release follows:

Distracted TV Viewers

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

NEW YORK, June 15, 2011 — 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.

This Adweek/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between May 24 and 26, 2011 among 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

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit

About Adweek
Adweek relaunched in April 2011 as a single news source covering the intersection of advertising, media, marketing and technology. The new Adweek unites all of these disciplines through the magazine’s bold opinion pieces, enhanced data mining, trends, and behind-the-scenes coverage, as well as a freshly designed with breaking news all day, added video content, new columns and editorial franchises, social media integration and an editorial archive. With celebrated columnist, book author, and commentator Michael Wolff at the helm as Editorial Director, Adweek will bring its journalistic prowess and integrity to subjects formerly covered by Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek. Adweek will continue to provide experiential opportunities for the industry through conferences, events, honors, and awards.

Adweek is owned by Prometheus Global Media, a diversified company with leading assets in the media and entertainment arenas, including: Music (Billboard and its related conferences and events, including The Billboard Latin Music Awards), Entertainment (The Hollywood Reporter, Backstage, ShowEast, Cineasia, and CineEurope); and Advertising & Marketing (Adweek, Adweek Conferences and The CLIO Awards).