Recent research presents a complex picture of the relationship between smartphones or tablets and the television screen. One study finds that only 14% of smartphone or tablet users recently used a television related app. Another reports that 65% of smartphone users and 85% of those with a tablet viewed video on their mobile device instead of their television at least some of the time.

Smartphone and tablet users are increasingly using television related apps for shows and networks. An American study found that only 14% of smartphone or tablet users recently used such an app but nearly 75% of them were satisfied with the experience.

Watching videos related to a television programme or channel is the most popular use, among nearly half of those using such apps, followed by looking up further information about a programme or checking programme times. Reading or making comments about a show are significantly less popular, each accounting for around a quarter of users.

“The latest round of apps is from content providers, not satellite and cable-TV companies,” said John Barrett, the director of consumer analytics at Parks Associates, which conducted the research in the United States. “They want to increase viewer loyalty to their shows and enhance the viewing experience with second-screen activities.”

“Companies in the television industry are experimenting with several approaches to TV-related apps for mobile devices,” said Brett Sappington, director of research. “Some are already noting several benefits, including greater viewer immersion, the ability to appeal to viewers outside of the broadcast window, and new aspects to storytelling. However, the most important implication may be for advertising. As consumers increasingly tune into mobile devices during commercial breaks, these apps provide a way to keep viewer attention.”

A study by NPD DisplaySearch of smartphone and tablet owners in 15 countries found that over eight in ten used their devices at least some of the time while they watch television. However, the most popular applications were not necessarily television related but perhaps predictably were email, general web browsing, texting, social networking and checking the weather forecast.

“For many people around the world, multi-tasking with apps on smartphones and tablets while watching TV has forever changed the traditional TV-focused viewing experience, said Riddhi Patel, research director at NPD DisplaySearch.

The NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Multi-Screen Usage Study is based on more than 15,000 surveys of connected-TV owners in 15 markets. The survey focused on those who currently own a connected or smart television, as well as a smartphone or tablet, and so concentrates on adopters of these technologies.

Among these users, 65% of smartphone owners and 85% of tablet owners reported viewing online content on their mobile devices instead of on a television at least some of the time. Most of them said they like to be able to watch from anywhere and not to have to compete with others for control of the television.

Even so, around 35% of smartphone owners and 15% of tablet owners never watch online video on these devices, saying that the screens are too small, sound quality is relatively poor or they are difficult to hold for long periods.

The proportion of people watching on smartphones and tablets was significantly higher in emerging markets such as Brazil, China and India than in more mature markets.

Meanwhile, research from GfK has examined the viewing habits of over subscribers to online video services Netflix Watch Instantly, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu Plus. Over 500 subscribers to one or more of these services agreed to report their use once a day for seven days.

It found, not surprisingly, that television shows were selected more than movies, by a factor of four to one. Even though the average time viewing each movie was greater, this was offset by the number of television programmes viewed, which accounted for two-thirds of viewing time on these online video services.

The range of viewing was eclectic, with only a few programmes receiving more than a handful of mentions, with episodes of Star Trek apparently the most popular, accounting for 4% of some 2,300 views.

Notably about half of all views were watched on a television set, rather than on a handheld device.

“We see that, contrary to broadcast TV’s ‘mass’ audience model, streaming services generate episodic, niche viewing — more broad and unpredictable than even the 200 channels on your cable TV menu,” said David Tice, the senior vice president of the GfK media and entertainment team. “These services provide the control and multiplicity of choice that consumers crave, and the result is very individual behaviour.”

Or it could be that these online video services, even with their catalogues of thousands of titles, actually allow people to indulge in programmes that in the past they might have picked up at the video rental store, rather than competing directly with mainstream television channels. It is not surprising that given extended choice, people tend to explore a broader range of options.

Online services are increasingly investing in their content catalogues. Netflix received nine Emmy nominations for its remake of the political thriller House of Cards. It is the first exclusively online programme to be nominated for an Emmy award, since a change in the rules in 2008 that made them eligible. It has been seen a watershed moment, comparable to the emergence of cable networks, which until 1987 were excluded from the awards but now dominate many categories. HBO meanwhile received 108 Emmy nominations.

House of Cards is only one show and Netflix has not revealed how many people watched it. Ironically the great strength of these online services is that they know exactly who is watching what, when and on what device. Perhaps the reality is that many of its subscribers are watching old episodes of Star Trek, as likely on their television as a handheld screen.