Institute for Screen Industries Research

Television and the multi-screen household project

This project examines audience use of, and attitudes towards, the development of ‘secondary screens’ (laptops, smartphones and tablet computers) and ancillary multi-platform content in association with television, film and gaming (mobi/webisodes, web-based games, behind the scenes content or interviews and social networking). It aims to understand:

  • who uses such content and on which devices;
  • where and when in the home they access this content;
  • reasons and motivations for accessing it;
The project examines audience use of "secondary" screens and ancilliary multi-platform content.


Project Overview

Activities already carried out include:
  • Audience research over 18 months (September 2005 - February 2007) involving 118 questionnaires, 52 diaries and 9 focus groups into attitudes towards early web-based gaming, mobile television and downloading;
  • Analysis of the UK television industry’s multi-platform policy including annual reports, executive speeches and interviews, regulatory reports and press releases from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, Arqiva and OFCOM;
  • Analysis of multi-platform content including website and mobile content for Doctor Who (BBC, 1962-), Spooks (BBC, 2002-2011) and 24 (Fox, 2001-2010), and catch up services BBC iPlayer and 4oD.
Activities currently in progress include:
  • Logging and monitoring of households (single person, families, couples, house shares) on their use of television set based content (television, film and gaming, and secondary screens over a period of 9 months via video cameras, audio recorders, web traffic monitors and participant completed diaries. This will bring together data on an unprecedented range of screen-related activities. The synchronized nature of the final data set will allow a more detailed understanding of how individuals use screen technologies to engage with television, film, videogames and their ancillary multi-platform content than has previously been possible;
  • Focus groups to explore what participants value about all forms of content available on a television set and ancillary multi-platform content.


The project has already generated some important findings:
  • Audiences evaluate new technologies and services based on their experience with older media. For instance downloading is evaluated in terms of how it is an improvement on television broadcasting;
  • Where content is expanded from a television title (e.g. mobi/webisodes and web gaming), audiences desire consistency of character, setting and narrative events;
  • Viewing drama content on mobile devic3es is problematic due to the small screen size and incompatibility between the immersive experience desired from drama and the public spaces associated with mobile technologies.

Other findings emerging from current research include:
  • How engagement with ancillary mobile and web content intersects with conversations and routines (including meal times and chores) and media-related behaviour across a range of household types;
  • How household routines and the use of multiple screen devices change over time, including in response to the introduction of new services and devices.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The project conclusions and recommendations are:

  • The launch of new services and devices should reference similar, established services and devices. For instance the launch of a new downloading or streaming service should recognize its innovation but also how it is a similar experience to television broadcasting or pre-existing downloading services;
  • Ancillary content connected to specific television or film drama titles should feature the same characters (and actors), settings and specific narrative content as the original film or television series;
  • Mobile content should focus on short form formats (news and sports bulletins) rather than drama and comedy.

We are currently in the process of outlining a further set of recommendations to:

  • harmonise different content forms across television sets, laptops, tablets and smartphones to ensure maximum audience attention and interest;
  • tailor specific content and devices for specific household groups and members for instance families vs single-person households or teenagers vs 20-35 year olds;
  • launch new services and devices in order to ensure maximum take up and greater integration into household content-related routines and rituals.

Project Leader


Evans, Liz

Institute for Screen Industries Research

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD