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More viewers using second screens

Many US viewers are becoming more active while watching television, judging by the findings of a new report that illustrates the explosive growth in people who watch TV while connected to social media on smartphones and tablets.

The Nielsen company said that one in three people using Twitter in June sent messages at some point about the content of television shows, an increase of 27% from five months earlier. And that was before the Olympics, which was probably the first big event to illustrate the extent of second screen usage.

"Twitter has become the second screen experience for television," said Deirdre Bannon, vice president of social media at Nielsen.

Social networking is becoming so pervasive that the study found nearly a third of people aged 18 to 24 reported using the sites while in the bathroom. An estimated 41% of tablet owners and 38% of smartphone owners used their device while also watching television at least once a day, Nielsen said.

That percentage has not changed much; in fact, 40% of smartphone owners reported daily dual screen usage a year earlier, Nielsen said. The difference is that far more people own these devices and they are using them for a longer period of time. The company estimated that Americans spent a total of 157.5 billion minutes on mobile devices in July 2012, nearly doubling the 81.8 billion the same month a year earlier.

"There are big and interesting implications," Ms Bannon said. "I think both television networks and advertisers are on to it."

Social media can provide networks with real-time feedback on what they are doing. The performance of moderators at presidential debates this autumn was watched more closely than perhaps ever before, because people were instantly taking on Twitter to provide their own critiques.

It also makes for some conflicting information: Twitter buzzed with complaints last summer about NBC's policy of airing many Olympics events from London on tape delay, yet ratings for the prime-time Olympics telecast soared past expectations.

The increase in people watching television and commenting about it online would seem to go against another big trend this autumn: more people recording programmes and watching them later. Those contrary trends both increase the value of live event programming like awards shows or sporting events.

The Nielsen study also found that 35% of people who used tablets while watching TV looked up information online about the programme they were watching. A quarter of tablet owners said they researched coupons or deals for products they saw advertised on television.

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