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  • Claire M. Segijn

Is the TV still the first screen?

Nowadays, people have a lot of additional screens that can be used simultaneously while watching TV, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop. These devices are called ‘second screen devices,’ devices that are connected to the internet which you can use to play along with the TV content. However, the question arises whether these second screen devices are still the ‘second screen’ in terms of attention? And how does this affect people’s memory of the content on both screens?


When using multiple screens simultaneously, it is not possible to focus your eyes on both screens at the same time. People have to switch between the screens. This has consequences for their viewing behavior of both screens. In one study researchers combined a TV with a computer screen and found that people switched more than 4 times per minute, while the computer received the most attention (Brasel, & Gips, 2011). However, another study found that people switched on average 2.5 times per minute and that the TV still received almost 75% of the attention (Segijn, Voorveld, Vandenberg, & Smit, 2016). These contradicting results show that it is not that simple to say the TV or any other screen is the ‘first’ screen.

Effects on people’s memory

But what are the consequences of the aforementioned attention distribution on people’s memory? This question becomes particularly important for program developers and advertisers. Media multitasking literature shows consistency in finding that people will remember less of the media content when they use multiple media simultaneously than when they would use only one medium. A more recent study (Segijn et al., 2016) found that people’s memory doesn’t necessarily always have to suffer when using multiple screens simultaneously. The content of the screen (both editorial content and advertising) will be remembered as good as when people are single screening – as long as this screen receives the most attention.

Is the TV still the first screen? It is a popular notion to state that the TV is no longer our first screen. However, results of different studies showed it is not that simple. It depends on different factors such as the content of both screens, people’s goal when using screens, and other characteristics of the media user. Furthermore, we learn from this study (Segijn et al., 2016) that memory of the media content doesn’t always have to decrease when using multiple screens. Attracting attention becomes even more important in a world in which people get used to use multiple media devices on a daily basis. But if you do succeed in attracting attention, you have a better chance that your media content will be remembered.


Brasel, S. A. & Gips, J. (2011). Media Multitasking Behavior: Concurrent Television and Computer Usage. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 14, 527-534.

Segijn, C. M., Voorveld, H. A. M., Vandeberg, L., & Smit, E. G. (2016, March). Consumers’ Multiscreening Viewing Behavior, Reporting, and Effects: An Eye-Tracking Study. Presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Advertising, Seattle, WA.

About the author

Claire Segijn is a PhD Candidate at the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam School of Communication Research at the department of Persuasive Communication. Her research focuses on multiscreening and how people process information such as advertising while using multiple screens simultaneously.

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