Marketers Vie For TV Viewers Who Web Surf

Studies now show a significant number of TV viewers have computers perched on their laps while watching TV. They're googling, searching and chatting online while watching football games and reality shows. Producers of TV shows and commercials are trying to capitalize on the trend.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Here's some news about multitasking. A majority of TV viewers, at least sometimes, watch the tube and surf the Web at the same time.

And so, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the people who make what you watch and what you surf are competing for your eyeballs.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: New research shows that over half of TV viewers go online while they're watching TV. That's probably not so surprising at a time when multitasking is a given, but it's a challenge for the folks who want your attention.

Mike Vorhaus is president of Magid Advisors, that did the study.

Mr. MIKE VORHAUS (President, Magid Advisors): People are going back and forth between their email and the TV show. So, for the TV advertiser, for the TV programmer, it's all about getting the attention of the consumer back.

BLAIR: Especially young consumers. So a network like MTV had to figure this one out.

(Soundbite of TV show)

Unidentified Man #1: Hit up dancecrew.mtv.com for all the info on auditions. And…

BLAIR: In addition to calling out to viewers to go to their Web site, MTV uses the lower and upper parts of the screen constantly, inviting viewers to go to mtv.com.

Stephen Friedman is MTV's general manager.

Mr. STEPHEN FRIEDMAN (General Manager, MTV): I don't think there's a show we do where we're not having our audience go to mtv.com to interact in some kind of way - because we know they're going to do it anyway.

(Soundbite of TV show)

Unidentified Man #1: And for the first time, you can upload a one-minute video of your crew to the Web site.

BLAIR: Friedman says sometimes, viewers who are also online can be the network's biggest boosters, without MTV having to do anything.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: During our movie awards, we had a situation that got a lot of attention - where Sacha Baron Cohen, in his persona as Bruno, dropped into Eminem, the rap singer's, lap.

BLAIR: That's a polite way of putting it.

(Soundbite of TV show, "2009 MTV Movie Awards")

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN (Comedian): (As Bruno) Eminem, nice to meet you, sir.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Suddenly, the Twitter world and Facebook and the blogs were going crazy about what had just happened on MTV. And we could see through the Nielsen ratings a massive spike.

Mr. CHUCK PORTER (Crispin Porter + Bogusky): Everyone I know is multitasking all the time. I'm multitasking even as we speak.

BLAIR: That's Chuck Porter of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an ad agency known for luring people online. He says he's seen TV and online producers try really hard to distract one from the other.

Mr. PORTER: You can have flashing, sort of, little billboards that come on your online, or you can scream on a TV commercial and people might fall for it once, but they never fall for it again.

BLAIR: Instead of a shouting match, smart marketers, says Porter, need to engage with the audience. To do that, his agency uses humor and provocation to get people's attention. One of their campaigns for Burger King is like a faux documentary called "Whopper Virgins." People in remote parts of far-off countries taste hamburgers for the first time.

(Soundbite of Burger King ad)

Unidentified Man #2: Most of them like the Whopper, too.

Unidentified Man #3: How's that compared to seal?

Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: But you can't win them all.

BLAIR: Some people were offended by the ad, and that generated buzz, and so people went online to find out more. Chuck Porter says watching TV while surfing online is just one of several reasons it's easier than ever to ignore advertising. All viewers have to do is shift their eyes to engage somewhere else.

A few years ago, Crispin Porter + Bogusky did extensive marketing research with the 12- to 15-year-old age group.

Mr. PORTER: And what we've learned is, they get bored instantly. They get bored even quicker than we thought they got bored. So certainly with this audience -and I believe with all audiences - they get it, you know. They see a spot and they say, okay, I've seen that. They want something new.

BLAIR: And more and more, they're finding it online. In their research, Magid Associates also found that a third of consumers say short videos online are just as, or more entertaining, as TV.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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