Films hold our attention more than TV series

Half of scripted series receive our full attention compared to 63% of movie viewing, according to new research from QUT.

At a time when many homes have more screens than people, viewing habits are ever evolving but new research from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) suggests there is now no such thing as ‘primetime’ and viewers are more likely to give their full attention to a film over a TV series.

Media scholar Professor Amanda Lotz and Dr Marion McCutcheon from QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre and School of Communication surveyed more than 2000 adults for their Australian Screen Stories Viewing Report, a four-part examination of Australians’ attitudes and behaviours towards scripted series and movie viewing.

Funded by ARC Discovery Projects, part three of the report – Australian Screen Story Viewing Report: Part 3: Viewing Practices – has just been published by QUT and explores emerging viewing behaviours as well as who we watch with.

‘We are no longer bound to viewing schedules which means “primetime” is anytime we choose, although a small percentage (13%) of Australians report not using either social media or paid streaming services,’ Professor Lotz said.

‘Even with all the new ways in which we do view entertainment, there is also very little good data about common practices, such as how much viewing is intentional versus played in the background. Our latest report fills that gap, especially about the importance of screen stories as a way to share time with others and how we choose what to watch, which is not always determined by the content.

‘We found viewers pay closer attention to movies than TV series, with half of scripted series viewing receiving our full attention compared to 63% of movie viewing. Yet scripted series or movies remain very popular across all age groups, accounting for more than half of the viewing of our participants.

‘One quarter of those we surveyed never use another device while viewing while 28% don’t watch videos on social media (YouTube, TikTok, Twitch, Facebook, etc.) and 13% don’t watch reality TV, sports or news.

The figures, Lotz said, vary with age though.

‘People aged 45 and under watch nearly half the amount of reality TV, sports, and news as people aged over 45, and nearly three times as much social media video.

‘Older viewers are also more likely to pay close attention than younger viewers, who are much more likely to play shows in the background.’

Dr McCutcheon said the “second screen” – a phone, tablet, or laptop in hand while in a room with a ‘living room screen” – was potentially responsible for much of the distraction that might be part of contemporary viewing.

‘In the late 00s, many in the industry believed people would use their mobile screens in ways tied to living room screen viewing, what they called the “second screen”,’ McCutcheon said.

‘These assumptions persist today, so we asked how often respondents use a phone or other device related to what they are watching. It turned out that that “second screen” use is not a major feature of Australian viewing, with a quarter of them stating they never use another device while viewing a movie or series. This is especially the case for older viewers.’

Among those surveyed who do not live alone, more than half of time spent viewing movies is shared with others but “together time” doesn’t mean all watching the same screen.

‘We found 13% watch different devices in the same room “most of the time” or “often”, and 29% do so “sometimes”.’

‘Movie viewing is the most social, with 43% reporting they always or “mainly” view with others and for many, at least part of viewing isn’t about a personal favourite but finding a title to share.

‘Much of the pre-digital research about in-home viewing focused on family negotiation of the living room set. Now that many homes have more screens than people, it’s a whole new ball game.’

The full report is available online: Australian Screen Story Viewing Report: Part 3: Viewing Practices