TORONTO – The average Canadian adult watches a whopping 30 hours of television a week, according to BBM Canada.
Nathaniel Willsie figures he’s way under that and swears he’s not among those who watch an average of four hours and 20 minutes of TV a day.
But when it comes to how much time he spends online, he laughs sheepishly as he tries to do the math.
“It’s a lot,” says the ruminating 24-year-old from Edmonton, umming and ahhing for a few seconds before coming to a number that he sounds surprised to utter aloud.
“I’m on social media pretty much all day long from eight in the morning until midnight, I would say.
“I don’t know, maybe 10 hours a day?”
It’s his growing interest in social media that’s led to his declining interest in TV. And when he is watching, the TV screen only has a fraction of his attention, with his eyes frequently scanning over to his iPhone or laptop, which are always within reach.
Willsie’s not alone. A recent report by the Media Technology Monitor found that 58 per cent of Canadians said they have multitasked with an Internet-connected device while watching TV, and 26 per cent said they were always or almost always using the Internet while watching TV.
Meanwhile, figures for web usage are edging closer to time spent watching TV, especially among younger demographics.
“I find television is not as interesting nowadays,” Willsie says.
“There’s so much more happening on the web with people talking about things that are going on, social media is always being updated every second, 24/7.”
When you ask Canadians how they spend their free time at home, many say they now use the Internet more than watching TV — although researchers suspect most understate how much TV they watch and overestimate their online time.
According to statistics from 2012 compiled by the Television Bureau of Canada, the average 18- to 24-year-old said they watched 14 hours of TV weekly and spent 31 hours online.
But according to BBM, which uses electronic meters to track the actual viewing habits of sample audiences, that demographic watched TV for an average of 22.5 hours a week. And Internet measurement firm comScore, which also uses digital tracking to estimate Internet usage, said those young people were online for an average of 17 hours over a seven-day period.
Among 18- to 49-year-olds, the survey results suggested they were watching TV for 19.3 hours and were online for 23.3 hours. BBM had 23.2 hours for their TV viewing and comScore tracked them to 17 hours.
The trend of TV viewers being distracted by digital devices is taken seriously at the CBC, which has put a lot of effort into giving connected audiences ways to interact with the content they watch.
“The predominant behaviour is they’re doing things that are not connected to the TV show, that’s what our audience data has told us,” said CBC’s director of digital content Tessa Sproule. “So what we’re trying to do is figure out ways to create an experience that is irresistible and makes the audience want to engage with us on both of those screens.”
Last week, the network had a special second-screen element tied to the season finale of the drama “Arctic Air,” which encouraged viewers to access extra content through the web, or a smartphone or tablet app.
In what CBC called a North American first, the show had special content running on the web and within the apps during commercials in a bid to keep viewers from getting distracted.
“It’s kind of fascinating, it is all about trying to figure out: what do (audiences) actually want?” Sproule said.
“Nobody I think has figured that out exactly yet and I think the audience hasn’t figured that out, because their patterns are changing all the time. It seems we just have to dance with them and let them lead.”
When it comes to using social media to comment on shows as they’re watching, not many Canadians are doing it, according to MTM. Only eight per cent of anglophone Canadians surveyed this past fall said they used Facebook or Twitter to talk about a show as they watched it, although that number was up from five per cent a year earlier. Twice as many users said they used Facebook compared to Twitter.
But Laurent Maisonnave, CEO and founder of the web company Seevibes, which tracks social interactions with TV content, said that chatter is growing dramatically.
“What we’ve seen is it’s booming, in the past two years I think it’s an increase of 500 per cent in the number of interactions around TV shows,” said Maisonnave, adding that it’s not just the top-rated shows creating social media buzz.
According to a Seevibes analysis of social media commentary around shows in March, an episode of “Pretty Little Liars” airing on MuchMusic sparked the most online conversation, with more than 540,000 Facebook and Twitter posts. “American Idol,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Glee” also made the top 10 list, as did the reality show “Duck Dynasty.”
Maisonnave said it’s no longer surprising to see more obscure titles developing major social media followings.
“What we see is some TV shows that have a smaller audience have a really high level of engagement because it’s perhaps a niche subject but people love the content and engage more.”