How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: Are You A Second Screen Multi-tasker?

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Television watchers are no longer keeping their eyes continuously glued to the screen–increasingly smartphone, tablet, and laptop users have merged their mobile device and television time. Are you one of the second screen multi-taskers?

Image courtesy of Umani, a TV-companion application for iPad.

According to Nielsen user surveys, at least 80% of mobile device owners have used their device while watching television in the past month–27% said they use their mobile device alongside the television multiple times a day. What the survey results are light on, however, is an in depth look at what the users are doing with their second screen. This week we want to hear about whether or not you’re one of the second screen multi-taskers and what you use your mobile device for during your television/movie time.

Sound off in the comments and then check back in on Friday for the What You Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 09/12/12

Comments (46)

  1. r


  2. Meena Bassem

    welll, i’d say no cuz i no longer like wasting time on tv with long boring commercials. i block ads on the internet and i’m not willing to see them on tv. besides that, i will probably do

  3. Mike_NJ

    Yes, conditionally.

    Ever since I was young – 10 or so – I’ve regularly had two things going on at a time.

    When reading, before I had a TV in my room, I’d have a radio on.

    With video games, I’ll have TV on in the background (DVD, netflix, etc) or radio/pandora

    Even now (almost 33) – for example last night reading in my den – I was listening to repeat episodes of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, with the book in one hand and the kitten monopolizing the other.

  4. LadyFitzgerald

    Guilty. I frequently have the TV on while on the computer. I also have the TV patched into my computer.

  5. Iszi

    Usually, if I’m watching a show or movie that I have a serious interest in, I’ll put down everything and give it my full focus. This is especially true when I haven’t seen the particular episode or movie that I’m playing.

    For other shows or movies I’m less interested in, or have already seen, I’ll probably be doing something on my laptop while it plays. Usually, this will include a Flash game or some similar distraction, or I might be perusing and posting on one of a number of StackExchange sites, or catching up on HowToGeek. An unfortunate side effect of this is that whatever’s on the TV screen will occasionally slip into the background, and once in awhile I find myself rewinding to catch some lines or action that’s missed my attention.

    This is not a phenomenon that is limited to just watching things on the TV, though. In workplaces where multiple monitors are provided, I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for some people to do work on one computer screen while (with headphones on) they have a show or movie running via Netflix or another streaming service on their secondary screen. Personally, I find this a bit too distracting for me to actually accomplish any work-related tasks. So, I generally limit my multimedia multitasking to the home environment.

  6. DaveS

    I pretty much only watch Food Network, NatGeo, Science, or Discovery.

    When a location, place, or event that I’m not familiar with is mentioned in the shows, I like to grab my phone to look it up for more background.

    If I wait until later then I’ll never actually look it up.

  7. DaveS

    That should read

    “location, person, or event”

  8. BooBTube

    I use my android as a remote control with my XBMC rig. I also use it to check TV scheduling. I even use it to check email and other similar functions. All while watching TV. But not that much. Cause, if there’s something I’m really interested in watching then I usually just ignore my android, leave in in another room or turn it off altogether. But the TV seems to always be on.

    Face it. On air/cable television programming is usually not that interesting, especially when there’s plenty of time during commercials to go do other things. So I suspect most people do have a television set on somewhere but don’t really watch it until it’s time to start winding down their day or when there’s actually something interesting to watch. So is this really multitasking? I say no.

  9. Elessar Cm

    Absolutely. While watching TV, I’ll monitor work email on my Blackberry, while browsing my RSS feeds on my laptop or Blackberry Playbook. ~ecm

  10. TheFu

    Definitely. I’ll be working at a PC and have the TV playing previously recorded and pre-processed to remove commercials in the background. Usually not really watching the TV – so the TV is the 3rd monitor.

  11. Neofrey

    No, I only watch shows that I want to watch through Hulu, other streaming sites, and other nefarious ways.

    If the TV is on playing something random while I’m busy with something else it’s background noise not second screen multi tasking.

  12. jigglypuff

    My tablet is usually on while I watch TV. I am either on Facebook chatting, catching up on the day’s emails, or finishing some work.

  13. Rodger


  14. spike

    normally more than 2 screens :)

  15. Matt

    Absolutely. I have either a laptop, my phone, or food in front of me at all times while watching TV.

  16. Trixie

    There is a smaller TV in the room with my computer, which has two monitors, so the TV is on in the background while I’m on the computer, doing numerous things. If I watch a movie on Netflix on the computer, I’ll still use the second monitor for other tasks, but I’m paying much closer attention than I normally do when I have the background TV on. At work I have three monitors, so I can keep music in the background, and gchat for conversations. Watching or even listening to extended movies isn’t practical, but I will take breaks and watch shorter videos and then go back to what I was working on. Depends on how busy I am. I also sometimes have my netbook as well, in case I want to work on personal stuff. It’s a lot of back and forth.

  17. Braxx

    Laptop, desktop, android, and tvn ..sometimes the radio going in the background

  18. Cryphakon

    iPad for monitoring
    Netbook for downloading
    Screen 1 for work
    Screen 2 for music/movies/tv shows

  19. BlackKnightRebel

    Yes, I play my PSP Go in short bursts while commercials roll. You can get a surprising amount of gaming accomplished while watching an hour long show such as House M.D.

    I’m currently chewing my way through the excellent Valkyra Chronicles II and am doing so almost exclusively during the commercial breaks.

  20. TallPaul

    If I’m not too bothered about the TV show and it is more background noise, then yes, but as I have a triple monitor setup and watch TV on one of them then its not really a big deal. If, however, it is a new episode of a show I like or I’m watching a movie, then pretty much full concentration is on that unless some one texts me or rings me.

    With Breaking Bad and possibly other American TV shows (I live in the UK so don’t get this unfortunately) they have something called Story Sync, designed to give live polls, trivia, etc on your smartphone/tablet whilst watching the episode.

    Although thinking about it, there is a British TV show called the Million Pound Drop, where you are encouraged to play along online.

  21. Anb

    Yes. Have done so for many years. NFL time is my most productive time.

  22. Danny

    I’m someone who watches movies om the PC and at the same time do some maintenance/work on the same system.

    Just recently I’ve found myself working with the laptop (little website codefixes) whilst watching TV.

  23. Bill

    On main computer, have pop-up TV screen where I can watch my satellite channels. When at the family TV in the living room, I always either have a tablet or Android phone going. We’re pretty adept at avoiding commercials… the Double Play feature on DirecTV lets me have two shows on at the same time. When commercial on one channel, we switch to the other and watch it until we get far enough ahead of the commercials on the main show we’re watching and then switch back and fast forward through all the commercials. Its interesting how many more commercials are being shown. I have a 30 second skip button and press it anywhere from 7 to 10 times to skip commercials. What a WASTE of time. They’ve oversaturated the shows with commercials to a point where you lose continuity with what you’re watching. So, instead of having two or three really effective commercials, they put 10 that are totally skipped. What a waste.

  24. xana452

    I usually only pull out a phone or tablet during a commercial. I can’t stand them and how cheesy they have become. During commercials, I will research something that I was curious about (randomly) during the show.

  25. Rino

    no. i no longer watch tv due to poor entertainment choices on tv plus dumb programming.

  26. imanoldgoat

    Hey, Im an old goat- remember having NO TV, and listening to the radio while doing homework. With TV, a fantastic 8″ B & W 20 pound “Portable” ( no remote ), did college work, watched TV, and listened to music (yes, on a record player with 33 rpm records- change ’em every 18 minutes). Still do it, but a might slower. Now listen to audio/ video on one computer, work on a second computer. Fun. Baa!

  27. S.T.

    Yes. Definitely. TV is family time but we are all on our tablets and phones doing everything from checking mail, submitting homework or playing some game – these days dark knight

  28. Hisa

    Yep. If it isn’t tweeting, facebooking, updating websites, doing research or working on art, it is something else. No one, not even I, can understand how I know what is going on anymore! I seem to pay attention to nothing but absorb everything. It’s the new osmosis!

  29. Thedyolf

    In fact I am and I am not, I got my computer, with two screens and my tablet (and a third screen for my computer but it isn’t compatible with my motherboard and videocard so spilled money unfortunately..) mostly on one screen I have a movey, on the other my facebook and on my tablet I am just doing stuff on the internet :p

  30. saket

    Well……..I am a second screen multitasker, but i use second screen to extend my linux desktop not as a television :-)

    its fun when you show your family a video in HD and can work simultaneously, on the topic, which you forgot at the time of switching to video

  31. DonSieg

    I also am a “two timer”, using my sit down time for TV watching as a chance to catch up on the news and info of the day available online. I was a devoted daily newsprint reader for 40 years, but the state of the printed word has become nothing but pages of advertising and news that’s a day late and a dollar short. I’ve given that up in favor of the tech world and never looked back. Amazing how times change.

  32. xilef

    sort of. I do not watch TV, but I might watch a movie on a separate computer while doing a repetitive or low-attention task

  33. Jonathan Manheim

    Ordinarily, I haven’t been doing this, but I recently had surgery which has affected my ability to focus on things like TV and even novels (which I love to read). I’ve taken to using an iPad, and using it while in my easy chair and watching TV. My wife likes TV, and there’s no reason why I can’t sit and monitor it with part of my mind while she’s watching. I can divert to the TV if I catch something of interest. Sometimes, I’ll ask to rewind a bit to catch a full story or something, but I try, for my wife’s sake, to minimize that.

    Typically, we watch news shows and dramas, and of course, there’s always Jon Stewart!

  34. Chaos504

    TV has been boring for so long that I couldn’t watch without doing a jigsaw puzzle at the same time. Since I got the iPad implanted (I skipped the cellphone stage), I either do games or surf while “watching”. Btw, I use two displays for work, both at home & at the office. Wish I could split the big screen tv: half & half for any two of internet, games, or cable feed.

  35. fraser

    I usually put a film on then do some work on my other screen

  36. Snap

    read emails, work and personal, facebook, g+, research or just read news.. this is done on laptop, or android phone. only when new and very interesting shows do I not do this. Been doing this for years

  37. Mary Conlon

    Nearly always – usually the iPad gaming, reading emails, surfing www, facebook or reading! Unless its a foreign movie ;) Love it – occasionally if its something where I loose track then I stop.

  38. Mary Conlon

    And forgot to add – use the iPad to research something, check a map of the area, look up people or check the music featured on the programme

  39. Julian

    Just like Mary, I use my device to supplement the programme I’m watching, same goes for audiobooks. Sometimes I’ll pause the programme while I do this.

  40. Jack in TN

    Yes. I keep a laptop going 7×24 pretty much, and TV in going normally.

    Pretty much my ‘throne’ in the family room. I have almost always multi-tasked,
    before laptop it was a book or magazine or 3 at my side. My wife has accused
    me of using TV as a radio more than once, and I can’t say she is wrong.

    These days most of the multitasking is looking up references from the show,
    re-checking email, checking up on broadcast advertisements or things like
    new ‘Gibbs Rules’, and so forth, or questions from wife, or the most recent
    misquotes or half truth’s from both sides of the political isle, both foreign and

  41. steve.lim

    Sometimes, I just wanted the background noise of the television while focusing on my phone screen. XD


    I read books or articles from on-line magazines, check e-mails, pay bills on laptop or tablet. TV the last couple of months has been mostly reruns. BLAH!

  43. PTR

    I have been a “multi-screener” for years. Got my Dell 27″ set up in front of me and my big comfy chair. Just need to look a little to the left and across the room for our 37″ Vizio TV. Wife has similar setup on other side of room.

  44. jthelw

    Yes – guilty, too; since I got my laptop. Spouse cannot understand how I can work on PC and watch TV, too, but puts up with it. I absolutely draw the line at online purchases while I’m watching TV though – this could get me into lots of trouble!

  45. kavyag4gmailcom

    yessss I do use :)

  46. Jonathan

    I actually use more than one computer at the same time. A sweet freebie from the Microsoft garage called “Mouse Without Borders” allows me to control whichever computer I happen to have the mouse over. Full keyboard and file sharing is drag-n-drop onto each other screen. It doesn’t get any easier than this.

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