Screen Size Matters: Study Highlights Viewer Preferences | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

Screen Size Matters: Study Highlights Viewer Preferences

December 1, 2021

By Hadassa Gerber


Measurement across media platforms has been challenging and far from seamless, with a variety of metrics, third party companies, and media organizations approaching it differently. On a positive note, the industry's move to impressions has facilitated the ability to combine audiences across platforms with a common metric; however, there is still work to be done on de-duplicating audiences and identifying overlaps.

Yet, even as the industry makes headway in combining audiences across platforms, many qualitative questions remain about these audiences. What do savvy marketers need to know to make the most informed media planning and buying decisions?

Defining Viewership

What constitutes as viewing differs significantly across video platforms. Based on the Media Rating Council (MRC) guidelines, a digital video viewer only needs to view half the screen for two seconds to be counted as an audience impression. In comparison, a local TV viewer needs to view five minutes per quarter hour to count as an audience impression, according to Nielsen. That's a significant disparity in viewing time between these two media.

As such, it's important to consider the difference in screen sizes among media platforms. One only needs to hold their smartphone next to their TV to notice qualitative viewing differences. Currently these differences in the viewing experience are not reflected in audience measurement across devices.


The 2021 GfK Media Comparisons Study looked at media usage, time spent and reach across 20 media platforms, including traditional and digital. Respondents were asked about their media usage and which devices they used for accessing content. This study examined media, including social media, but did not look at talking or texting on a smartphone.

Not surprisingly, people use their smartphones in many different ways. According to the study, among adults 18 and older, the top smartphone usage was for social media and email, both with a reach of 45 percent. That means 45 percent of respondents were reached by these media in one day. Next was online search at 37 percent, followed by streaming long form video with ads, at only 16 percent.

Which screen did respondents gravitate to for viewing long form content? The TV screen. In one day, 80 percent of respondents viewed programs on a TV screen, five times the number of respondents using small smartphone screens. The study verifies that larger screens are the dominant choice for ad-supported video content.

Time Spent

Reach only tells one side of the story; in the GfK Media Comparisons study, a respondent who noted just one minute of usage was included in the reach number. A better measure of engagement is how much time people are willing to invest in a media platform daily.

The respondents who viewed programming on a TV screen (80 percent), spent seven hours and 14 minutes viewing. The pool of respondents who watched long form programming on their smartphones, 16 percent, spent only one hour and 49 minutes viewing. If the experience of viewing on the two screens was comparable, the gap in time spent would most likely be much narrower.

To summarize the findings from the GfK Media Comparisons Study 2021:

  • People's preference is to watch long form programming on a TV screen. Eighty percent chose the larger TV screen compared to 16 percent who chose a smartphone screen.
  • The pool of respondents who chose to watch programs on a smartphone (16 percent), spent far less time viewing than those who viewed on a bigger TV screen (one hour 49 minutes for smartphone users versus seven hours 14 minutes for TV screen users).

It's important that marketers and advertisers know about the qualitative viewing differences between screens. Regardless of the criteria set by the MRC and Nielsen to determine what constitutes an impression, viewers' time spent with TV and smartphone screens reflect their preference. Savvy marketers should take these results into account when making strategic media planning decisions, to best showcase their brand message.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Hadassa Gerber is the chief research officer at TVB.

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