"Television used to be front and centre, prime-time, everyone booked some time to watch their favourite TV shows," said Lynne Clarke, head of marketing at Microsoft Advertising. "Well that's something that still happens but it's something that's a little bit more of a passive background medium, people have the TV on while they also have their laptop, their tablet or their mobile phone, and they're playing around with those devices at the same time."
But how Canadians divide their attention across various screens while relaxing at home isn't cut and dry, said Clarke, who identified four different types of multi-screen multi-taskers.
Content grazing multi-taskers:
This type of multi-tasker typically uses two or more screens to watch TV and access unrelated content, with no intent to accomplish anything important. They seek fleeting moments of fun and distraction and tend to get addicted to using technology this way.
Investigative spider-webbing multi-taskers:
These inquisitive multi-taskers juggle devices to delve more deeply into something they've seen on their big screen, or something that's come up in conversation.
Social spider-webbing multi-taskers:
Extroverted users who use multiple screens to share and connect with peers watching what they're watching on their TV, or engage with digital communities while they've got the TV on.
These users have a job to do and choose to accomplish it by using a variety of devices. Online shoppers typically fit into this category, starting by researching a purchase on a smartphone or tablet and then completing a transaction on a desktop or laptop.
Clarke said multi-screen multi-tasking is becoming more common in Canada as consumers get addicted to their mobile devices and expect to be able to use them for anything, anywhere.
"It's really pretty surprising how quickly the Canadian consumer's expectations have risen as it relates to where content and data is available and how they view the user interface or the user experience," Clarke said.
"A consumer really does want it to be the same everywhere, they don't expect to have any breaks in content when they're on the go."
But Canadians are still seen as more conservative than their global peers when it comes to some mobile tasks such as online shopping, she added.
"There still tends to be a higher proportion of Canadians that do an awful lot of research online but still tend to shop offline."