Viewers are most engaged with shows via social media when viewing happens on a tablet or phone, according to a recent Council for Research Excellence (CRE) study.

The study, which covered around 1,600 primetime TV shows of various natures, also showed that ‘socially connected viewing’ — defined in the study as ‘occasions when people engage in social media about a TV show while watching that show’ — is highly driven by viewing via a channel app or website. Socially connected viewing is also higher during the ‘binge-watching’ of multiple episodes than during the airing of a current episode.

Beth Rockwood, the senior VP of market resources at Discovery Communications who chairs the CRE’s Social Media Committee
“The majority of viewing remains live and on traditional TV sets, but we do see that social media use has a stronger relationship with the newer platforms and behaviors. This is evidence that social media is an important part of the new ways that people are consuming television content.”

The second edition of this study, ‘Talking Social TV 2,’ was handled for the CRE by a team from Keller Fay Group, with fieldwork conducted by Nielsen.  The results were compiled from over 78,000 mobile-app diary entries submitted by nearly 1,700 study participants, which were deemed representative of the online population between the ages of 15-54.

Overall, the numbers showed that nearly one in five people use social media daily in relation to TV viewing. For nearly half of the 16% of primetime TV viewing occasions that involve social media in some shape or form, the viewer was engaging in ‘socially connected viewing’.

The study was conducted from September 16 to October 6 2013, dates selected to coincide with the launch of the Autumn TV season, according to Beth Rockwood. “It’s a hugely important time for the networks to be finding ways to promote their shows and spending a lot of money doing so.”

The CRE saw much higher levels of social media usage around the season premiere of new shows. “It continued onto the second and third episodes but it was the most apparent at the premiere and considerably higher than it was for even for the first episode of a big returning show. In this period of time we had so many more premieres to look at is confirming a lot of what we saw in the first research,” she said.

The research found also found that socially connected TV viewing is most common around sports, sci-fi and specials programming. “The Emmys were on during that period of time and that really pumped the numbers up,” said Rockwood. “I think again that if you’re a programmer and you’re putting something that’s a special on, it’s a big signal that that’s where you want to focus social media efforts.”

In a more recent occurrence, Rockwood was particularly taken with Ellen DeGeneres’ appeal to retweet her ‘selfie’ during the 2014 Oscars. “ Obviously they knew that this behavior was going on and took the opportunity to pump it up even more by doing something on air, which was very smart.”

In terms of platforms, Facebook facilitated the largest overall amount of social media activity during the study, but only a third of the Facebook conversation was related to what was being watched. By contrast, Twitter usage was smaller but over half the conversation it facilitated was related to the show that was being watched.

The highly engaged ‘Super Connectors’ group — which covered 22% of participants and is distinguished by its daily use of social media directly in relation to TV — often uses multiple platforms to actively relate to the show.
Rockwood agrees that there is cause for the broadcast market to invest in technology that allows viewers to interact with social media. “You have to recognise that it’s a discreet subsegment. It’s not something everybody does but for those people who do it, it’s very important.

“They’re social media involved but they’re also more involved in promotion and talking about it face to face; so they’re young and TV involved and that makes them important. That’s a very attractive group to engage, it’s the future generation of our viewing audience.“