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TV, Net Wrestle For Kids' Attention

In recent years, marketers have begun trying to reach consumers through the so-called "second" and "third screens." They know that television isn’t the dominant medium that it once was, and that effective campaigns often must include the Web and, increasingly, mobile devices.

Multichannel marketing is especially critical when it comes to communicating to children, according to a new study that found they're some of the heaviest users of the Internet at the same time they're watching TV.

"It's both a threat and an opportunity for marketers," said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, which produced the study.

"Today's kids are tomorrow's adult media consumers," he told InternetNews.com. "It's pretty clear that decision makers and marketers are going to have to figure out ways to keep the attention of kids."

Grunwald's study found that 64 percent of Americans between the ages of nine and 17 are online while watching TV.

According to the company, savvy marketers are already addressing the interactive challenge by using TV spots to drive Internet activity such as promoting a brand's Web site or an online contest.

"The findings of this study strongly suggest that companies should use multiple platforms -- TV, online, social networking, handheld and other interactive media -- to create a synergistic communications effort and a compelling, highly interactive experience for kids," Grunwald said.

The research identified a growing segment of "active multitaskers," defined as kids whose actions in one medium are guided by what they see in another. For instance, 50 percent of the kids surveyed said they visit Web sites advertised on TV even while they continue to watch.

Nearly half (45 percent) said that they have sent instant messages or e-mails to friends who they know are watching the same TV program.

One-third of the study participants reported that they have voted in online polls, entered contests or engaged in some other online activity when directed to do so by the TV program they were watching.

Among kids who said they surf the Web while watching TV, 47 percent said that the Internet is their primary focus; 42 percent said their attention is divided equally, and just 11 percent said that TV commands a greater share of their attention.

The fact that kids pay more than four times' more attention to the Internet than TV while watching both signifies they are no longer passive recipients of media messages, Grunwald said.

The study found also that 27 percent of kids are active media producers, maintaining blogs or Web pages and routinely posting and sharing content such as articles, videos or quizzes.

Social networks also receive a fair amount of attention from kids: The report said 27 percent of children are frequent users of social networks.

Of those, 66 percent recruit others to visit their favorite Web sites, and 37 percent said that they keep up with the latest brands and recommend products to their friends.

Many marketers believe that turning Web users into amateur evangelists for their favorite brands is the key to unlocking the advertising potential within the social Web. The idea of the trusted referral has been gathering steam among the social networks, as advertisers look to insert themselves into conversations between friends. An endorsement from a friend is far more convincing than a branded commercial, so the argument goes.

This was the strategy of Facebook's Beacon ad program, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg heralded as an advertising revolution 100 years in the making.

In terms of ad dollars, however, social networks are still trading more on promise than results. In one of the few disappointments of Google's recent earnings call, co-founder Sergey Brin told analysts that the company's social networking business, as its exclusive ad-serving deal with MySpace, had fallen short of expectations.

Still, in focusing on kids, the Grunwald study suggests that the marketing power of the social Web can be a powerful, if not yet realized, force.

"I think the takeaway is that kids, when given the chance, are going to gravitate to the more interactive medium, and we're seeing that already," Grunwald said.