NEW YORK: Far from providing advertisers with a useful tool that promotes incremental reach, the second screens that half of TV viewers are now using at the same time are a major distraction that adversely affects brand recall a new study has claimed.

For its Video Ad Attention Index, digital media company AOL commissioned research from Nielsen, involving more than 2,000 online interviews with users aged 18-64 who watched at least an hour of video weekly on some device, 480 in-person lab interviews and 14 in-home ethnographies.

Reporting the study, VentureBeat warned "the findings are not pretty". Distractions cut ad recall by more than half with the biggest impact being on TV. Just 23% of users who were distracted by a smartphone or tablet while watching TV could recall a brand's ad, but for undistracted viewers that figure rose to 83%.

That gulf was less for other devices: for computer users, ad recall was 39% when faced with device distractions but 82% when undistracted; for smartphone users the equivalent figures were 57% and 88% and for tablet users, 43% and 80%.

"The lesson for brands is they need to think about things outside of reach and frequency," said Cortney Henseler, AOL director of consumer research. "Things like attention – what happens in a commercial's day-to-day life."

She speculated that tablets and smartphones performed better because, unlike TVs which are often literally in the background, these devices were physically close to the user.

Further, video ads on mobile devices are typically short so viewers may pay more attention than to longer form content.

"The smartphone, even with distractions, still retains more value for the advertiser," Henseler concluded.

Based on these findings the report developed an "attention metric" which combined the frequency of undistracted viewing, device-distracted viewing, and people-distracted viewing with ad metrics.

Applying this new metric, AOL suggested that TV advertisers would need to significantly increase the number of impressions to achieve the same impact as ads on mobile devices – by up to 17% normally, and a whopping 80% if one took account of fast forwarding recorded shows and skipping digital ads.

Data sourced from VentureBeat; additional content by Warc staff