Broadband and new technology changes Australian viewing habits

  • Australias more likely to use two screens at once
  • Engage with what you're watching through social media
  • NFC may mean television will reach out to us

The debate around TV and couch potatoes – whether we're stimulating or killing our brain cells – is an old one, but new dimension has finally been lent to it by the range of "portable internet devices" that Australians are using.

The rise of smartphones and tablet devices, not to mention the generally commonplace nature of laptops, wins most of the credit on this. The proliferation of tablets, smartphones, and laptops in Australian homes is changing the way we access the internet – and, as a result, the way we do everything else. Over half of Australians use a smartphone these days, and tablet penetration is also reaching staggeringly high rates considering tablets have only existed for about eighteen months.

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But what does this mean for our viewing habits?

Basically, we're accessing screens in a myriad of ways. The typical short attention span of humanity is here coming in useful, because by using our smartphones, tablets, and laptops while we're watching television, research is showing that we're engaging with what we watch in  a more thoughtful and intelligent manner. More and more people sit on the couch with a laptop or tablet on their laps, and a smartphone in their hands, either to attempt to do two things at once or to have a medium with which  to interact with what they're watching.


Think of the tweets that scroll across the bottom of the show during Q&A on the ABC, or during morning shows; or shows that ask you to vote through your phone; or shows like My Kitchen Rules and The Block which facilitate online conversations with viewers through mediums like Twitter or Yahoo!7's Fango app.

Rather than competing with television, market research shows that TV stations have adapted to mobile internet devices and found ways to integrate them in the viewing experience.

Ratings group OzTAM director Doug Peiffer said: "When a device like an iPad comes into a household we're seeing it displace the desktop PC but it hasn't seemed to hurt television, and it's actually an opportunity to leverage TV if you make it engaging."

It's a chance to exercises our brains while watching media that traditionally requires very little active engagement.

CNet Editor Seamus Byrne said: "People now find themselves splitting their attention between what's on the TV and what's happening on the screens in their laps. It's the classic debate of sit back versus sit forward. With computers we're actively participating in what is happening, whereas with TV there's traditionally that mental thing of sitting back and letting things happen."

Additionally, having a laptop or smartphone in their lap while watching television gives the average viewer something else to do during the ads. Rather than paying fervent attention to any and all advertising going on, viewers have the chance to tune out of the TV and into their device of choice. It's a much more productive use of energy and concentration than in watching the increasingly longer blocks of advertising between the segments of our favourite television shows.

The future

Networks and technology experts will undoubtedly be playing on the way we are frequently using two screens at once. One particular option we can expect to see soon is Near Field Communication – NFC. NFC is the ability for one device to automatically transfer files and data to another in close distance, and it's how we'll be using our smartphones as credit cards in the future.

In terms of watching television, though, the power of NFC will be the ability for producers to send out advertising tailored specifically to their viewers that appear on your device. For example, you could be checking Twitter on your smartphone when an invitation to talk about the show you're watching pops up on your screen. Whether this will be annoying or not, only time will tell!


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