Will Second Screening Have an Impact on the Way We Consume and Interact With Live Sports?

21/06/2016 10:34 | Updated 21 June 2016

With the Euros now in full swing, there's little doubt that the digital landscape across Europe has changed significantly since the tournament's last outing in Poland and the Ukraine back in 2012.

Four years ago, our data shows that fewer than half of the continent's internet users were getting online via a mobile; now, that figure has risen to about 3 in 4. Likewise, names like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger were relatively minor or even non-existent forces back in 2012, with Facebook and Twitter being the dominant names in the social space. Seen in this context, it's not a surprise that many have labelled France 2016 as the most social and mobile set of Euros to date.

Between 2012 and 2016, one thing that has remained much more consistent is the likelihood of internet users being "second-screeners" - using an additional device as they watch television. Our research shows that around 75% of European internet users were doing this in 2012, a figure which has ticked up very slightly to stand at 80% in 2016. Certainly, the devices they use for this have shifted significantly (laptops still ruled the roost four years ago, but have now been displaced by mobiles as the number one choice) but second-screening is roughly as important now as it was back in 2012.

Unsurprisingly, fans of the Euros are ahead of average here; an impressive 9 in 10 in our research say they second-screen as they watch TV, with two thirds using their smartphone for this. Put another way, that means that virtually everyone who is watching the Euros at the moment is likely to be engaging with a second screen at some point, and that this extra screen is most likely to be attached to a mobile. That's music to the ears of marketers, many of whom have long seen this extra screen as an additional space where they can engage viewers and serve them relevant content or marketing campaigns.

However, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the second-screen is actually more of a distraction than a complement - especially given that the vast majority of us now have an easily-accessible smartphone in our pocket which we can engage with in any moment of downtime. The clearest sign of this comes from the activities that people say they do as they second-screen. Topping the table among Euros viewers are behaviours such as chatting to friends or social networking (both on about 40%). Reading the news then follows closely behind.

As we might expect, there is something of an age split here; the younger the Euros fan, the more likely they are to be a social second-screener. In contrast, viewers of all ages are equally as likely to be consuming news on their additional screens. But the consistent - and pretty telling - metric is that all age groups report very low numbers for interacting with online content/apps designed to support what they are watching on the main screen. Fewer than 15% of Euros viewers in fact say they do this, making it the least popular second-screening behaviour among the ten tracked within our research. In short, the vast majority of second-screening is what we might call "informal" - i.e. it is not necessarily linked officially or directly to the show/match being watched.

Of course, there's likely to be huge cross-over with the social second-screen activities here. A lot of people who say they chat to friends or use social networks are no doubt talking or networking about the Euros. But in today's multi-networking landscape, that presents a challenge in itself. Back in 2012, you could argue that most brands looking to tap into social conversations needed a presence only on Facebook and Twitter, which were by far the most dominant names in this space and the natural go-to points for most (if not all) social conversations. As we've noted already, however, it's a space which has fragmented significantly since then; while the average internet user had accounts on around 3.5 social networks/services in 2012, that figure has more than doubled to stand at close to 7 in 2016. And among the all-important trend-setting 16-24 demographic, that jumps further to hit an average of 8.

At the moment, around 8 in 10 Euros viewers across the continent might still have a Facebook account - meaning it remains the most popular social force overall - but WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger hit the 50% mark in our research, Instagram has become a major destination too and, in some markets, Snapchat also shows strongly. This is exacerbated still further by a move towards slightly more "passive" forms of engagement on some major networks, which has seen users becoming less likely to share or post things themselves and more likely to read/share things posted by others. With a lot of the more personal sharing migrating to smaller or more closed-door services (and to messaging apps in particular), it's not just that there are now more social networks where marketers need to have a presence, it's that - on some of them - they can't expect to see the type of public posting and sharing that has become so coveted.

Overall, then, it might be right to call France 2016 the most social and mobile Euros to date, but it's also the one where fan conversations will be more distributed and more private than ever before.