McDonough School of Business
News Story

The Impact of Social TV on How We Consume Advertisements

Over the years, the way we watch television has changed drastically. Today, an estimated 80 percent of U.S. television viewers use another device while watching television. This has given rise to the new phenomenon of social TV, when viewers of a television program also engage in social media sharing and chatter about the specific show as they watch it. Research shows that 40 percent of those who use multiple devices while watching television engage in social media about the show at the same time.

Social TV gives rise to an important question for advertisers: if people are more engaged on social media during a television program, then does that make them more or less cognizant of the advertisements running during the program? Participating in social TV could make viewers more tuned into the show they are watching, which in turn could improve the effectiveness of advertisements. Or, it could mean viewers are more distracted from watching and processing the information in advertisements.

David Schweidel (new window), a professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and Beth Fossen, an assistant professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, conducted the study “Social TV, Advertising, and Sales: Are Social Shows Good for Advertisers,” currently under review at Marketing Science. They examine the impact of social TV by tracking the relationship among television advertising, social TV, and online traffic and sales at retailers. Specifically, they ask, “Are television shows that generate high levels of social TV beneficial for advertisers?” and “How can television advertising increase online shopping?”

To address these questions, Schweidel and Fossen built a multi-source data set that includes online traffic and sales on retailers’ websites, advertising instances for those retailers during primetime, social media mentions of the programs when the tracked advertisements appear, and the mood of the ads. They discovered a significant relationship between social media chatter and online shopping or traffic following advertisements, with the mood of the ad impacting the overall effect.

“The type of advertisement matters,” said Schweidel. “Not all advertisements are created equal when looking at the benefit and outcome of social TV. We found that emotional advertisements had by far the greatest impact in spurring increased web traffic, while funny and emotional advertisements generate the largest increases in online purchases.”

The study also pinpointed important information for advertisers on how best to leverage social TV. To reap the increased benefits social TV can provide, retailers should consider airing their advertisements earlier in primetime, near half-hour breaks, between Sunday and Wednesday, and not around fall finale episodes. The last effect is especially surprising, as advertising spots during finales are considered traditionally the most favorable. However, according to the study, these slots generate less web traffic and fewer online purchases, perhaps because viewers have difficulty re-directing their attention away from the program to process advertisement information.

This study suggests that television shows that spur high levels of social TV are beneficial for advertisers in terms of driving online traffic and online shopping. If the advertisement strikes either an emotional or funny mood, then it can be effective at drawing in viewers’ attention and circumventing the potential negative impacts of multi-screen distraction during viewing. The study results underscore that media multitasking by television viewers is not necessarily a bad thing for advertisers. Rather, it must be approached strategically.