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The Screen Matters

The way we watch TV shows is changing. Whether one is watching a movie or other program over a TV set, a PC or a mobile device, the size of the display screen matters in terms of a viewer’s appreciation of a show.

A recent study by two ad service firms, YuMe and IPG Media Lab (IPG Mediabrands), analyzes consumer viewing experiences, comparing four TV screens – traditional TV, online TV, a PC and a smartphone. As it reports, “while the size of the video screen did drive more excitement, variables such as ad clutter, creative content, and context had a much stronger influence on ad recall by viewers.” While not dealing directly with the changing environment of movies screened in theaters, the study can provide indie makers with valuable insights into changing America’s screen-mediated viewing habits.

In the 10-plus years between 2000 and 2012, Americans have become “multi-screen” TV viewers, with consumer ownership of video-playing devices nearly doubling. In 2000, per-person video devices stood at 1.97 devices; by 2012, it had jumped to 3.96 per person. The study did not include the latest mobile device, the tablet; the Consumer Electronics Association reported that as of June 2012, tablet ownership among online American consumers reached 29 percent.

The YuMe-IPG study employed a variety of research techniques, including self-reported surveys, observed video and ad exposure, and eye-tracking and biofeedback. While assessing the attention, excitement and ad recall of only 147 consumers, the study suggests an outline to the future of multi-screen viewing.

Conventional or linear TV has the highest ratio of ads to content at 27%, compared to other typical experiences on connected TV (8%), mobile (9%) and PC (12%). One study finding is of particular note: “Ad clutter appears to undermine the ad effectiveness of linear TV (27% successful unaided recall), compared to successful unaided recall with less ad time for connected TV (38%), mobile (35%) and PC (43%).”  YuMe’s Ed Haslam found that “consumer attention is fragmented across screens amid a dizzying array of content, and viewing habits differ by time of day.” As expected, the more ads participants saw, the less able they were to recall any specific one.

This trend bodes trouble for long-form content (20-plus minutes). FreeWheel, an ad services company, found that in the year-plus between Q1 2011 and Q2 2012, the number of ad inserts nearly tripled from 3 to 8 ads. Its report is based on 12.5 billion video views and 10.1 billion video ads.

Nevertheless, the YuMe-IPG study reminds us of a simple truth: “The most engaging content attracted the most attention.” It notes that “lean-back” environments like watching TV at home in bed or on a couch enhances viewer attentiveness to ads. One of its findings should be kept in mind: “Greater attentiveness is likely related to less multi-tasking and distraction in bed.” So, lay back and enjoy the show.

As long-form film theatrical and DVD distribution give way to TV/cable and web distribution, the multi-screen viewing experience is increasing in popularity. Such viewing seems to enhance what advertiser’s call for greater “engagement” while eroding a viewer’s attentiveness. At what point is the tension between engagement and attentiveness going to kill the golden goose, the maker’s creativity?

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David Rosen is a writer and business-development consultant. He is author of the indie classic Off-Hollywood: The Making & Marketing of Independent Films (Grove), originally commissioned by the Sundance Institute and the Independent Feature Project. He can be reached at For more information, check out and




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