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Trend watch: We're using our cell phones while watching TV

Cell phones are with us all the time, so it's not surprising that a new Pew survey suggests that more than half of all adults use their cell phones while also watching TV.

Half of all adult cell phone users surveyed by Pew Research use their cell phones while watching TV, a revelation that could drive more interactive advertising for TV viewers.

Josh Miller/CNET

According to the Pew study, which surveyed 2,254 people in March and April of this year, 52 percent of all cell phone owners said they had used their mobile devices to do a variety of things while watching TV.

What exactly were these folks doing with their cell phones while watching TV? About 38 percent said they used their phones to keep them occupied during commercial breaks. And 23 percent said they used their phones to text message someone else in another location watching the same show.

Another 22 percent said they used their phones to check to see if something mentioned during the show was true or not. And 20 percent said they were checking Web sites mentioned during the program they were watching. Roughly 11 percent said they were using their phones to see what other people were saying online about a show. And 11 percent said they also posted their own comments online about a program they were watching using their mobile phone. And only 6 percent said they used their phones to vote for a reality show contestant.

Another interesting tidbit from the survey is that smartphones users were far more likely to interact with televised content on their devices while watching TV than basic feature-phone users. About 74 percent of smartphone owners reported using their devices in one way or another while watching television, compared with 27 percent of non-smartphone owners. It would be interesting to see if this percentage increased for tablet owners. The survey did not include questions about tablet usage.

In terms of demographics, households with incomes greater than $50,000 a year were more likely to interact via their mobile phones than people living in households with lower incomes. Pew's research also indicates that African American cell phone owners used their phones more while viewing TV than their white counterparts (59 percent vs. 50 percent). And urban residents were more likely to do so than those living in rural areas.

What these findings suggest is that mobile devices are increasingly becoming tied to the TV viewing experience, something that broadcasters, paid TV providers, and advertisers will likely want to tap for revenue in the future.

Marketers will likely make their advertising more interactive to engage consumers on a more personal level from their mobile devices. The big question is whether consumers will do more than simply check Web sites or update statuses.

In other words, will viewers also make purchases from their TVs? This is something PayPal is exploring. The company, now owned by eBay plans to allow TV viewers to buy advertised good, make donations to political campaigns and charities, and ask advertisers to text them with more information from their TVs. PayPal expects to start offering the service as early as this fall.