Growing number of Americans ‘dual screened’ debates last week

If you’re planning on tuning into tonight’s US Vice Presidential Debate between current VP Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan, then here’s a question: How are you planning on tuning in? After all, although the debate will be carried live by multiple television channels (including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, as well as Fox News, CNN and MSNBC), it’ll also be streamed live online in multiple locations as well, and aired on the radio. Which venue and format is the preferred one for checking out the political conversation of the evening?

The reason I ask is that the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have looked into the ways in which people watched last week’s first Presidential Debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and discovered that more and more people than ever before appear to be using multiple methods for watching at the same time. According to Pew, 56 percent of those polled said that they watched the debate live, with 11 percent of those watchers admitting to being what the research body calls “dual screeners” – viewers who watched the event on television and followed it online at the same time.

The survey contacted 1006 adults in the US between October 4 (the day after the debate) and October 7 to ask about their viewing habits when it came to the debate. It found that, of the 56 percent who said that they watched the debate live (563 people, assuming that the 56 is a rounded figure), 85 percent of them watched the debate exclusively on television. That figure breaks down, as you might expect, to skew heavily in the older age ranges: Of viewers 65 and older, 98 percent of them watched solely on television, with 89 percent of those aged 40 through 64 years old. Only 67 percent of viewers aged between 18 and 39 restricted themselves to television. The younger demographic was more friendly to online viewing, with 10 percent of the 18-39 group watching only online, and 22 percent watching both television and online simultaneously, compared with 10 percent of the 40-64 group, and 2 percent of the 65 and above group (No-one in that latter group said that they watched the debate online only, and only 1 percent of those in the 40-64 group watched solely via Internet).

(For those who are curious, there was no noticeable pattern in the political affiliations of viewers when it came to their method of viewing; democrats, republicans and independents alike essentially watched television, online and both in equal numbers.)

Overall, the survey found that traditional media can feel confident about the way it’s measuring up to the Internet, with more than twice as many respondents also saying that they watched more traditional sources (Television, radio, newspapers) than digital in terms of overall debate coverage, 78 percent against 36 for digital (Maybe they were waiting for the Bad Lip Reading remix). While traditional media may be in trouble in the larger scheme of things, apparently it still feels like the best choice for people when it comes to political news.

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