Bravo Report: How Networks, Advertisers Can Turn Smartphones, Tablets Into Profit (Exclusive)

iPads can keep viewers from fast-forwarding through commercials and lure them to engage more with shows

From the time the Betamax first enabled users to skip commercials to the current spread of distracting new mobile devices, new technologies have long plagued the television business. 

A new study by Bravo suggests the new devices could be a blessing in disguise for TV executives.

Over the past few months, the cable network and Boston-based Latitude Research have conducted a thorough study of the viewing habits of “multi-screeners,” consumers watching TV with other devices in hand. The researchers combined a quantitative study, polling viewers across the nation on all aspects of “multi-screening,” and a qualitative study – observing viewers in a controlled setting.

Though not definitive, its release on Monday can help both advertisers and networks better utilize meddlesome iPhones and iPads.

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For example, the report indicates that if the same advertiser places an ad on TV and on other devices, consumers are more likely to remember them.

Ad awareness, which tracks whether viewers recognize an ad after seeing it, plummets when viewers use DVR. Live TV viewers register 37 percent awareness while DVR viewers chart at 21 percent.

However, DVR viewers who are exposed to the same ads from TV on a second screen register 33 percent awareness of the ads, largely offsetting the difference.

One reason for that may be that those people using more screens while watching TV were less inclined to fast-forward through commercials, according to the study. Pair that with another discovery — that viewers are pulled back into the TV by certain types of ads — loud, visually enticing or featuring famous people.

In other words, advertising across all screens increases the effectiveness of the advertisements — and smartphones can actually help prevent viewers from missing ads.

And it’s not just awareness. Users are 49 percent more likely to actually purchase a brand’s products if they see the ad in several places instead of just on the TV and 23 percent more likely to remember it if it's on multiple devices.

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The bad news for advertisers and networks is that those using multiple screens are also more likely to look away from the TV, a phenomenon the research describes as “attention shifts.” People using three screens as opposed to two shift their attention nearly twice as much.

While this reinforces that smartphones and tablets are a distraction, other findings also suggest an opportunity for advertisers. Almost 30 percent percent of consumers said they would be more likely to buy products promoted in an ad if they could do so on their smartphones, tablets and laptops. That should prompt some to pursue further e-commerce options in second screen apps.

Additionally, most users of second screens are engaged in behavior seen as “ad-friendly,” such as texting, looking at a website, using an app or on social media.

Ironically, some believe viewer distraction is nothing new: “Before smartphones or tablets existed, people were distracted when they watched TV. Nobody ever sat like a zombie staring ahead at a TV set. It was just that they would talk to a friend or pick up a phone call or get up and walk a round the room or passively zone out," Dave Kaplan, VP of ad sales research at NBC Universal, told TheWrap.

Now those passive distractions have been replaced by productive distractions. These are opportunities — and a challenge — to reach the consumer on devices that are largely ad-supported, and have opportunities to engage with them in some fashion."

While demonstrating various ways to increase the effectiveness of ads is important to networks, the study also offers specific guidance for their own products.

Here are a few of the findings:

Advertise yourself on your own network. This seems obvious, but the data suggests that custom vignettes from the show airing are more effective at drawing the viewer back to the TV than traditional advertisements. Viewers are 37 percent more likely to look back at the TV for a vignette than a regular 30-second spot.

In creating a second-screen app, emphasize voting and social networking. Networks have experimented with a bevy of approaches with their TV companion apps, but the research suggests that during a show users mostly want to interact with friends watching, interact with the show itself or express an opinion about it.

“If it sounds cool on paper, media companies will develop it regardless of whether there’s a need for it,” Kaplan said. “Some research gets to the most basic emotional drivers. We haven’t seen that version of research done around second screening — what is it you want out of a second screen device.”

When asked what they’d want to do an a phone or tablet while watching TV, 45 percent said interact with the show, 42 percent said connect to social networks and 41 percent said influence the outcome of the show. That means tweeting, voting and other interactive activity — not extra information. Those apps offering cast profiles or IMDb pages should assume users will do that before or after a show, not during.

How TV networks choose to use this information is up to them, but that list bit of research reinforces a couple of Bravo’s recent and upcoming initiatives.

Bravo received a pair Emmy nominations for “Last Chance Kitchen,” a transmedia experiment with “Top Chef.” Each chef eliminated at the end of an episode went on to compete with the previous eliminated chef in a series aired online, on mobile devices and video-on-demand.

Just as the research indicated, 44 to 52 percent of viewers said they would want to watch extra content on their non-TV devices, Bravo offered such a program.

Moreover, Bravo is about to launch Play Along, which will enable viewers to vote on things happening on the show in front of them. They can select which housewife is the cattiest or which chef is most likely to win the challenge. Again, rather than offer content, Bravo simply encourages deeper interaction with the show.

Other initiatives, including one involving a non-stop stream of social activity, were less successful. Reports like these can change that.

 “A lot of things in the research suggest we’re on right track,” Kaplan said. “We’ve hit on something people have an underlying need or desire for. A lot of the stuff around Play Along, the ability to interact with other viewers while TV is running in real time or influence the outcome of the show, seems to be something people want to do.”