Social Media and Television: A Symbiotic Relationship

Photo credit: Kolin Toney on Flickr.If you search Google to find out the total number of hours that the average American spends watching television, you will find that the estimates vary by the source of the data.

However, no matter what source you turn to for this estimate, it is very clear that Americans still spend a lot of time watching television.

And, unless you live under a rock, you know that more and more people are using social media.

In fact, according to a recent Nielsen study, titled “State of the Media: The Social Media Report Q3 2011,” nearly 80% of active Internet users visit social networks and blogs.

The Nielsen study also found that of all the different types of activities that can be performed on the Internet, Americans spend the most time on social networks and blog sites. In fact, social networks and blogs account for 23% of the time spent online, more than double the amount of time spent on the number two category.

Where Do We Find the Time?

As mentioned, Americans still spend a lot of time watching television.

And, according to Forrester Research, the amount of time that we spend online has increased in recent years.

So, does this mean that we are spending less time doing other things?

The answer to that question in some cases is: Yes.

According to an article that was published on June 23, 2011, on, titled “Leisure Trumps Learning in Time-Use Survey,” the number of hours that Americans spend working has decreased in recent years.

According to the article, “On average, Americans aged 15 or older spent about three hours and 58 minutes working on weekdays, according to the 2010 American Time Use Survey released Wednesday by the Labor Department. That was a six-minute decrease from 2009, and down 26 minutes from 2007, before the recession hit.”

The article also points out that in the same time frame, the number of hours that Americans spent watching television and sleeping has increased.


A blog post published last year on, titled “US Consumers Now Report Spending Equal Time With TV And The Internet,” has further insights into where people are finding the time to watch television and surf the Web.

When discussing where people are finding the time, the article states that, “Well, some is being drawn from the decreased use of print media, but increasingly people are finding new ways to incorporate the Internet into their daily lives at times where, before, media wasn’t part of the picture. And of course, there’s the issue of multitasking, something younger consumers are especially becoming adept at.”

The fact that more people are consuming content from multiple media channels simultaneously is noteworthy.

What People Are Using Their PC For While Watching TV

Another post on, titled “The Data Digest: What Are People Using Their PC For While Watching TV?,” lists some of the online activities that people participate in when they watch TV and use a PC at the same time.

The blog post points out that when both the television and the PC are on at the same time, the attention that the television gets is diminished greatly. In fact, the author of the post posits the question: “Has the TV just become background noise?”

While the top four activities that people are doing with their computers while watching television have nothing to do with what they are watching, the news isn’t all bad for the television networks.

First, at least from the article, we don’t know how much time is devoted to the computer. Therefore, people might be browsing the Web during commercials. (Okay, this might not be good news for brands and their advertising agencies, but that’s another blog post.)

Second, 19% of people are looking up stuff that they see in the shows, 14% are using social networking sites to talk about the show that they are watching, 12% look up stuff they see in advertisements and 9% shop online for things that they see in the shows and commercials. (In my opinion, these are all big wins for brands and advertising agencies. But again, that’s another post.)

And third, 44% say that they email, chat and visit social networking sites on topics that are not related to the TV show that they are watching. This is a very interesting figure.

Social Media and Television

If you have been on social networking sites for any amount of time, you know that if some event is happening that catches someone’s attention, they are going to talk about it.

So, if a television program is good, it is going to generate some chatter on social networking sites and drive people to watch the program.

Therefore, the 44% of the people watching television and using a PC at the same time who email, chat and use social networking sites to talk about things other that the television show that they are watching can be drawn back to the television with just one email, tweet, post or comment on a social networking site.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Watch this YouTube video, titled “Next Wave with Gary Vaynerchuk: Twitter, Tumblr and TV.”

In the video, Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of VaynerMedia and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, talks about how social media is helping increase television ratings by bringing the virtual water cooler to your PC, laptop, tablet or other mobile device.

I think he makes a very good argument.


People are still watching a lot of television and more and more people are using social networking sites.

Furthermore, people are spending a lot of time doing both activities, often at the same time.

Given the fact that social media can influence what people watch on television and television can fuel the conversations on social media sites, in my opinion, these two mediums are helping each other make the viewers’ television experience more enjoyable and social.

In the end, that’s a win for everyone.

Photo credit: Kolin Toney on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: