First there was the big screen, then television brought images into our homes. Decades later we got hooked on video games and PCs. But now there are screens everywhere, with laptops, tablets, smartphones, digital signage, and more all vying for our attention. This is not just affecting our lives but also throwing up new challenges for content makers and advertisers. They are keen to take advantage of each new medium because research shows that whenever a novel device comes along we make time for it in our busy schedules.
Andrew Lipsman, Vice President of Industry Analysis at comScore, a firm that analyzes digital viewing habits, says: “We’ve looked at a given day of media usage. What you see is that tablets peak late in the evening, between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight.” With smartphones, he adds: “You see peaks when people are in transit, going to work in the morning or out to lunch.”
Desktop viewing, meanwhile, tends to happen in lunch breaks or evenings, when it may overlap with TV. New devices are not just changing former viewing times, but also what we watch on each device. Reading maps on a computer is old hat, Lipsman reports. Now we use phones. An important finding is that the more choices we have, the more we watch.
“The availability of more screens means that people are, in aggregate, spending a lot more time with digital media,” says Lipsman.
Over the last three years, Americans have almost doubled their screen time, he reveals. Even though most of us can now watch video whenever we want on our smartphones, desktop viewing is still on the rise. “And there is really no evidence that TV is falling off,” Lipsman says.
Increased viewing is potentially a good thing for content makers and advertisers who want to attract your attention. But today’s multi-platform viewers also pose a problem. In the old days, when there was just one screen and one channel, you could be pretty sure of reaching your audience on that channel. Now there are not just hundreds of channels, but also many more screens.
For content owners, therefore, “the challenge is how do they get smarter at integrating their thinking about all of these screens, so that they can reach audiences as efficiently as possible, and monetize each of those screens,” according to Lipsman.
From a technical point of view, much of the focus so far has been on making content work on as many different technology platforms as possible. The fact that you can watch YouTube clips easily on your phone is largely thanks to these efforts. However, if you have already watched your favorite show on TV chances are you won’t want to watch it again on your phone. So producers are increasingly aware that it makes sense to tailor content to particular devices, particularly if it can be done cost-effectively.
A good example is where the outtakes from a TV show can be posted onto the Internet so viewers can see them on a digital device. “To me, that’s a smart effort at being scalable across platforms,” Lipsman says.
“You’re already shooting that episode and you’re going to have a lot of outtakes. You’ve got a lot of character actors and other pieces you can use in different ways. It’s not a whole lot of incremental effort.”
The value of this multi-platform content creation approach is that most producers still rely on a single channel, such as TV, for most of their revenue, and adding special content related to that on other media will often strengthen the loyalty of their viewers.
The tailored content offers additional advertising opportunities, which works well for brands. Digital media has also helped many clever advertisers stand out by producing content of their own. Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos stunt is a prime example. Platform owners are getting in on the act. In May, for example, the social network Twitter announced a TV ad targeting service that helps advertisers promote themselves to viewers who have composed tweets while watching programs the brands were advertising in.
Charlie Marshall, strategy lead for the media and entertainment industry at Accenture UK & Ireland, says we are seeing a fundamental shift in the way content is created, distributed, and consumed.
“The more thinking that can be done about ‘true multi-platform’, the better,” he believes. “It is a world where content is not simply repurposed from one screen to the next. True multi-platform is when from the very ideation phase, content is suited to a multi-screen world.”
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