Over a quarter of Australian homes have access to four screens: television, computer, tablet and smartphone. That is up from 16% a year ago. The latest Australian Multi-Screen Report from Nielsen suggests that television remains at the centre of these connected homes, but reading through the report it seems Australians are watching a little less television than the previous year.

There is no doubt that the viewing environment is changing. One in five homes in Australia has an internet connected television, up from 15% a year previously, while over half now have a digital video recorder, with 13% having two or more. Over 30% of homes have a tablet, more than double the number a year before. Over 60% of Australians aged over 16 have a smartphone, up from 48% the previous year.

Three quarters of Australians over 16 say they use more than one screen at a time, up from 60%. Among those, 79% say they do so at least once a week, while 54% say they do every day.

A laptop or netbook remains the most regularly used screen for multitasking, followed by a desktop computer, mobile phone or tablet, although use of mobile devices is growing in popularity, with tablet viewing expected to increase over smartphones.

Over 90% of all viewing is to the traditional television set — a total of 92 hours and 39 minutes a month in the first quarter of 2013. While the report suggests that the television screen remains central to video viewing, the total amount of television viewing declined 5% by 4 hours and 36 minutes a month over the same period the previous year, for which no explanation is provided.

Australians now also spend an average 51 hours and 47 minutes a month using the internet on a personal computer, of which 6 hours and 43 minutes is spent watching video. Among those aged over 16, a further 1 hour 20 minutes is spent watching video on smartphones, with around 50 minutes spent viewing video on tablets.

The online video viewing figures only include streaming and exclude adult and downloaded material — enough said.

As the report rightly notes, the tendency to multitask while watching television is nothing new. People have often read newspapers and magazines while ‘watching’ television. Now people are increasingly using internet connected devices as well or instead.

The report suggests that these are complementary to rather than substitutes for television screen use. Equally, one might suggest they may also be substitutes for knitting or smoking.

While there is an increasing body of research about second screen activity, much of it is conducted by those with an interest in audience measurement. The sociology and psychology of such activities merits more attention.