Eye-Tracking & Your Second Screen—Just What Are You Looking At?

eye-tracking second screen applications
Second screens are radically changing the television viewing experience. But just exactly where is your eye spending its time between the two screens?

Eye-tracking is the science of charting the eye’s movement in order to see just where people are looking. In this case, when they watch television.

A groundbreaking study, conducted by Michael Holmes and Ryan Carney of Ball State University & Sheree Josephson of Weber State University, used eye-tracking to meter the attention of viewers while watching television in conjunction with a second screen app on a mobile tablet.

Test participants were shown two differing genres of programming: drama (one of two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy) and documentary (one of two episodes of From The Edge With Peter Lik) during the study.  Each of these programs had an official synchronized second-screen app; that is, content and interactive opportunities appeared on the tablet app when triggered by hidden audio cues in the program soundtracks.

Here are some of the general findings:

Second screens got nearly a third of visual attention.
Although the television screen delivering program content was the primary focus, second screens received 30% of total visual attention.

Considerable “gaze time” spent on second screen—even unprompted.
The uninterrupted viewing of points within a single screen was defined as “gaze time.” This indicates a focus of visual attention on a particular screen.

In other words, viewing that is not random, unfocused, or offscreen—which tends to suggests a desire to view a particular screen without interruption.

The study shows that even without prompting from a secondary source like “pushes” from the television content to interact with second screen apps—or ad breaks which redirect attention to the tablet—the second screen garnered a significant portion of total gaze time.

“Pushed” content & advertising increased second screen attention.
In those instances when viewers were stimulated by the television screen to interact with a second screen app—or presented with an advertising component—second screens garnered even more attention.

This news is advantageous to content developers wanting to maximize attention during “push” content prompting or during advertising components. As they know the focus of attention is likely to shift during these events, second screen content can be timed to take advantage of the additional focus.

Second screen presence significantly decreases average gaze length.
Even though the television gets the majority of TOTAL time being watched, the average duration of a gaze on the television screen is significantly decreased by the introduction of a second screen.

Also, the average gaze durations of television (1.9 seconds) and second screens (1.2  seconds) may indicate that the second screen requires more active or intentional monitoring while the television does not require such an active focus.

In practical terms, watching television is not as directed in intent as checking a second screen for specific information, surfing the web, or any number of other second screen activities.

So, the addition of a second screen isn’t creating an additional long gaze time. Instead, it seems to be the catalyst for a more vigorous, less static viewing experience.  

Historically, TV watching included some extended gazes on the screen, up to 20 or 30 seconds; these were absent in the study as participants rapidly shifted their attention between the screens.

Genre of content did not affect gaze patterns.
The type of content shown did not affect gaze patterns in any significant regard. Eye-tracking revealed that, regardless of content, visual attention to the second screen remained consistent across differing content.  

Program length also made no difference (the dramas were 60 minutes and the documentaries were 30 minutes).

Second screens are here to stay. And, they’re serving up more content, more apps, and more interactivity every day.

Programmers, developers, and content providers would do well to learn the eye-tracking lessons of second screen interactivity in order to maximize both their second screen applications—and the consumer experience.

Here at FYI, we’re watching everything that’s going on with TV screens, second screens, and the people who need entertainment data to keep holding the attention of viewers.

You've heard the groundbreaking eye-tracking data. Just click below and we’ll schedule a demo of our data for you to have a look at.

ATTRIBUTION: Holmes, M.E., Josephson, S., & Carney, R.E. (2012). Visual attention to television programs with a second-screen application. Proceedings ETRA 2012: ACM SIGGRAPH Eye Tracking Research and Applications Symposium (pp. 397-400). NY: ACM Press. DOI: 10.1145/2168556.2168646

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