Companion Watching…What’s Good?

Jackie Kollar
September 23, 2015

In the early 1900s a tech angel was introduced to society and is now known as the television set. The screen changed the way we, as the human species, absorbed information. Through bright lights and moving pictures, we all happily gathered around the tube for news, sports and our daily dose of entertainment. The following day, we’d all converse about what we saw at the office, over lunch or while out with friends.

Fast forward to a technology era where screens of all shapes and sizes are available to us, providing the gateway for interactive television. I’m talking about tablets, smartphones, laptops, desktop computers and even wearable technology. No longer are we waiting until the next day to talk about the it-show; we can’t even wait until the end of the episode or event. Now we talk and interact in the only time we know: real time.

If there’s one thing each generation has slowly begun to lose, it’s our active attention span. Finding the time to sit down in front of the television and watch an entire show without interruption is no longer the norm. We’re using other forms of technology to stay connected and in-the-loop. From the game-winning goal of the U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, to the VMAs’ Nicki vs Miley beef, or even that epic Game of Thrones plot twist, live events are not only what we want to watch, but immediately REACT to as well. We’re taking social by storm and using our other devices to do so.

Enter: companion watching. The act of watching television and using a secondary screen to respond in real time. Whether that’s following your favorite show, sharing content or connecting digitally with other fans, it’s an immediate reaction based on something broadcasted on television.

It’s become so natural to use additional screens when watching television that we often forget we’re taking part in companion watching and integrating social media into our viewing habits. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples of broadcasts that influence companion watching:


Entertainment television series became the pioneers for second screen involvement. Series like The Voice and American Idol display hashtags along the bottom of the screen to influence the digital conversation and incorporate the added voting element. For example, throughout The Voice, the branded #TheVoice appears along the bottom of the screen as a friendly reminder to get users talking about the television show in the digital space.


While hashtags serve as a basis for online conversation and topics, television personalities such as Daniel Tosh have taken it a step further and proudly display their own social handle as a way to promote both themselves and the brand they stand behind. Furthermore, by offering himself, Tosh becomes a direct participant in your conversation.


Now that a hashtag and mention have been established, the next step for brands is shaping and promoting the social conversation. With series like The Walking Dead and The Voice, they’ve channeled the force of live tweeting by actively responding to users as their tweets begin to roll in. Now we’re not only following the conversation on social, but we’ve begun to follow the conversation as it becomes available on the television screen. Livetweeting brings users into a new level of community participation. I can finally talk shit on Adam Levine with potentially thousands of other users.


More recently, certain live events, like large-scale sporting matches or award shows, have taken all of the information we shared in the digital space and formulated a real time story. MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) compiled the tweets and hashtag usage to inform decisions on voting for fan favorites based on engagement earned online.

Simply put, consumers’ television viewing habits have been changed by technology and are leveraging social media. A recent Viacom survey found that “Social TV viewers engage in up to seven types of social TV activities, with 56 percent using social media application to interact online during broadcasts. “

And for anyone out there still doubting the companion watching takeover, I’ll just leave you with this study from Nielson:

Have you companion watched? Sure you have. Tell us about it in the comments!