Smartphones, tablets create a nation of 'meshers and stackers' who won't just watch TV

Watching TV is no longer enough — we're tweeting, shopping and texting while we do it, according to a major survey of UK technology use.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Huge growth in the adoption of smartphones and tablets is creating a nation of media multitaskers, according to a major survey of technology use by UK households.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom's Communications Market Report 2013, released on Thursday, found that more than half of adults (51 percent) now own smartphones, almost double the proportion of two years ago (27 percent). Tablet ownership has more than doubled in the past year, rising from 11 percent of homes to 24 percent.

The average household now owns more than three types of internet-enabled device, with one in five owning six or more such devices.

And while nine out of 10 adults watch TV in the living room at least once a week, more than half are now media multitasking while watching the box.

Ofcom said a quarter of UK adults are regularly 'media meshing' — that is, doing something related to what they're watching on TV, such as talking on the phone, texting, or tweeting about the programme they're viewing — with younger people most likely to use to do this.

The other major social phenomenon driven by tablets and smartphones is 'media stacking', with half of people using their smartphones and tablets for unrelated activities while watching TV every week — such as surfing the net (36 percent), social networking (22 percent) or online shopping (16 percent).

The report said women are significantly more likely to media multitask (56 percent compared to 51 percent of men), as are those with children at home (66 percent).

Two-thirds of tablet users say they use slates on a daily basis and 95 percent use their tablet at least once a week. Weekly users say they spend an hour and 45 minutes each day using their tablet, and one-third of tablet users say the device is their main way of connecting to the internet — on a par with the laptop.

Ofcom said the growth in ownership of tablets is driving the use of second screens, and enticing people to the main TV room. More than half of tablet owners use their device for viewing video content and half of these do so while in the living room.

Among people who watch video on their tablet, 60 percent do so in the bedroom, and one in 10 watch in the bathroom (this rises to 20 percent of 18 to 24 year olds).

James Thickett, Ofcom's director of research, said the research shows that families are gathering in the living room to watch TV just as they were in the 1950s, but "unlike the 1950s family, they are also doing their own thing. They are tweeting about a TV show, surfing the net or watching different content altogether on a tablet."

Other findings include that superfast broadband (speeds of more than 30Mbps) is now available to almost three-quarters of UK premises, and just under a fifth (17.5 percent) of all fixed broadband connections were superfast at the end of March 2013, with subscribers doubling from 1.9 million to 3.8 million in the nine months to March 2013. Men spent the most time browsing online, especially those aged between 25 and 34, who spent an average 47 hours and 42 minutes online per month in April 2013.

Ofcom conducted face-to-face surveys with 3,750 respondents aged over 16 in the UK.

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