Quincy Surasmith surrounds his desk with five electronic screens at his apartment. He has a Mac desktop computer, a laptop, home theater PC, tablet and a smartphone. Networks are now marketing to people like Surasmith using social media and apps to create an interactive experience for viewers.
When you're watching TV, are you viewing shows on your iPad, laptop and smart phone, too? As more people use multiple screens rather than traditional TV sets to watch programs, media companies are changing how they reach those consumers.
Los Angeles resident Quincy Surasmith turns on the movie “That Thing You Do” on his personal computer, but he’s not really watching it. That’s because there are so many screens to choose from.
His desk is surrounded by several electronic devices: his home theater PC, his Mac desktop computer, his laptop, a tablet and his smart phone.
“My desk chair is sort of in the center of everything and I can look at all the screens as I need to,” Surasmith said, pointing to a media command center of sorts in his L.A. apartment.
The 26-year-old is part of a growing number of consumers who multitask by using many devices. Their concentration isn’t glued to a TV set, so companies need to reach them in new ways through Twitter, Facebook and mobile apps.
Robert Thompson, a TV and pop culture professor at Syracuse University, said networks are marketing TV programs by building a stronger presence online and creating mobile apps to spur more audience participation and interest. (Story continues beneath poll.)
“You used to watch TV and you would comment and you’d talk among people in the room that you are watching it with,” Thompson said. “Now, of course that room has been expanded to anybody who is online.”
Web developer Katie Lohrenz, is a fan of The Walking Dead, but her husband isn’t into the TV zombie drama, so she usually watches it by herself in their Tehachapi home. When the show is on, she opens her iPad to Twitter, where there’s an entire community of Walking Dead fans.
“If someone is in a dangerous situation, then you go on Twitter and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, they're about to die!’” said the 29-year-old Lohrenz.
Networks are adapting to meet the new habits of consumers. Some viewers don’t even watch TV programs on TV sets. They watch shows and videos on their smart phones and laptops.
These days, viewer tweets are even read on-air and networks are building apps that generate more online content. For example, Showtime created an app that syncs with shows that lets readers interact with polls based on certain scenes in a show episode. The app also curates tweets, memorable quotes and provides a recap.
An engaged viewer is a happy customer, said Ken Todd, Showtime Networks vice president of digital content syndication and mobile development.
“As a subscription network, people are deciding every month whether they want to pay for Showtime or not," Todd said. "We want to make sure people are engaged and they are getting the value out of their Showtime subscription."
Showtime would not say how much they spent on the app or how many people downloaded it. But they have an entire group of people supporting it. A team starts developing the app’s content two weeks before an episode airs and there are also staffers that make sure the app runs smoothly.
L.A. viewer Quincy Surasmith hasn’t downloaded the app, but he’s tweeted while watching TV. The multiple devices he uses keep him busy. On some weekends he might spend six to eight hours at his home desk.
“My default place is here, because whether it’s for leisure or work or anything in between or mindless consumption of media, I can do it all from my desk,” he said.
But a downside to using too many devices could mean less interaction with family members. Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future, said families spent 26 hours a week of personal time together in 2000 to 2005. That has since dropped to about 18 hours a week, he said.
“The thing about the Internet is that it’s demanding,” Gilbert said. “It’s an interactive medium. The time that’s devoted to keep up their Facebook page and keep up their presence on the Internet — a lot of that I think is responsible.”
Back at his L.A. apartment, Surasmith said his multiple devices have improved his quality of life. He can keep in touch with friends that live farther away and he thinks of his gadgets as helpful tools. Plus, he can always unplug. It’s like stepping away from the typewriter 30 or 40 years ago, when writers needed a break, he said.
“To me, these [multiple screens] are no different except they can do way more,” Surasmith said. “When they are useful, they are way useful. When I want to walk away, they are no different than [walking away] from a ruler or a typewriter.”
Recently, he did unplug from his world of screens to read a graphic novel. Two hours later, he was back online.