This article was written by Silvana Churruca between 2011-2014. Silvana is a UX Designer & Researcher with a strong multidisciplinary background: starting with Graphic Design, Arts and Communications, and later specializing in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media, Product and Project Design Management and Communication Design Theory.  Follow Silvana on her LinkedIn.

Recently, checking Google's new tool databoard, I found some Google research about the multi-screen experience. A few months earlier, I saw a similar white paper written by Microsoft. This made me want to write about common points and differences between this great and tremendously helpful research from these two major companies.


How is media used in daily life? What are the common patterns? What are the motivations hidden behind every behaviour? How can you engage with your consumers in these crossing-scenarios?

These are just some of the many questions that are answered through these white papers. Keep reading and find out what you should know about multi-screening.

Although both papers are not so new -Google’s research is from 2012 and Microsoft’s from first quarter of this year- just in case you missed it -like I did!- here’s my insights about this two whitepapers full of powerful insights about media consumption these days around multi-screen behaviour. I must say that Microsoft's approach is definitively my favourite; you’ll see why next. First of all, when they talk about the multi-screen experience, it's referring to when consumers are using more than one screen at a time: either sequentially, simultaneously or separately. This form of media consumption, both companies agree, is increasingly becoming the default mode of content consumption and is deeply affecting the way users engage. That’s why even when you are advertising, trying to engage your customer or a company, trying to deliver a  great user experience, these insights are for you.

10 Major insights from both researches:

  1. Both agree simply that media consumption has radically changed. Users are more in control of their content grasping. Consumers are using multi-screening in a way that can satisfy that control desire, either for amplifying experiences, sharing, connecting with others, doing multitasking or simply getting things done.
  2. Both emphasize the need to adapt to this new multi-screening scenario in a way that we could engage our consumers catching up in the right moment and in the right way. User experience has toppled content’s reign as king. Consumers now control their own flow of content.
  3. Consumers relate to each device in unique ways, so businesses should tailor the experience to each channel (consumers think and use differently about their devices). On TV? Tell emotional stories and build your brand. On the computer? Provide deeper information, facilitate analysis. On Tablets? Tell stories using visual, evocative tools, such as rich media and video. On the mobile phone? Make sure you’re adding value, and not interrupting users.
  4. Both found the same modes of multi-screening: Sequentially, when users move from one device to another at different times to accomplish a task. Simultaneously, when using more than one device at the same time. Microsoft describes a third mode named 'Separately,' when consumers are using more than one device at the same time (simultaneously), but for separated unrelated activities. Google treats these just as  sub-modes of simultaneous depending if the activities are related or not: the ‘Multi-tasking’ for unrelated activity and the ‘Complementary Usage’ for related activity.
  5. Separately (unrelated content) is the most common mode of multi-screening. Users think about this as ‘multitasking,’ but research shows that it is more about being distracted.
  6. Context and mind status determines the device we use and the experience we seek. Are we at home? Are we seeking social enjoyment, shopping or entertainment? Multi-screening behaviour differs strongly depending on the user intentions and dominant activity. In many cases (34%) users laziness make the closest device the king.
  7. TV. Both agree television is no longer the full-attention media it used to be. Media consumption is shifting from traditional evening prime-time to ‘always-on’ scenarios. Beside this, television is a major catalyst for search.
  8. Computer. It's more information-based and productivity-oriented than the rest of the devices. It is the most common starting point for more complex activities.
  9. Smartphone. It is the backbone of our daily media interactions, the most common companion in all simultaneous multi-screening behaviour. It is the most ‘personal’ of all devices. Maybe that’s why users tend to be less open to advertising content on it.
  10. Tablets. The device most focused on entertainment activities and content, and primarily used at home. It is a ‘discovery tool’ with a immersive screen experience.

What do they have in common?

  • Both are oriented to the advertising market, trying to understand consumer behaviour, when using different devices such as TV, Computer, tablet, phone, and in case of Microsoft also game-consoles and e-readers.
  • Both studies use similar methodology based on quantitative and qualitative techniques: a combination of surveys, self-reported diaries and interviews.
  • Both talk about screens instead of devices. This is certainly curious. The quick reason could be they are analysing devices for advertising marketing so see the majority as ‘advertising displays.’ Anyway I can think of two other  reasons. The first one: users don’t think/care about ‘devices’, users are focused on their goals, and all devices are just ‘screens’ for them. Second: because of the continuous emergence of new devices, it makes no sense to put the focus on technology but on the use made of it.

Both identify the same basic modes of multi-screening behaviour.

And what are the main differences?

  • Market: Google research is focused in USA market, meanwhile Microsoft approaches 5 different markets: Australia, Brazil, Canada, UK and USA.
  • Sample: Google's sample is about 1611 participants, while Microsoft sampled 3586 participants.
  • Scope: Google's focus is on 4 main screens: smartphone, tablet, computer and television, but Microsoft includes also the gaming-console and the e-reader.
  • Takeaway insights: both papers have plenty of insights, but Microsoft especially leaves you with a bunch of strategic takeaway points.

Finally, as you will see later, Microsoft’s paper has a slightly different approach, which I have found particularly interesting and actionable, as it goes beyond behavioural trends and patterns and pursues understanding the user motivations behind them, and even so creating an effective modelling around these motivations and intentions, that they define as ‘the paths to engagement’:

  • Content Grazing: that occurs when consumers use two or more screen simultaneously but for access unrelated content. (Google’s Simultaneous multi-tasking).
  • Spider-Webbing: where users consume related content on two or more devices at the same time (Google’s simultaneous complementary usage).
  • Quantum: Consumers leap over time, space and screen to achieve a goal (Google’s sequential usage).

Besides all of the above, cross-engagement-paths with the main screens (devices) so you could see the role each screens play depending on the pathway is running.

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