What it means for media when people switch their devices every three minutes

People change the media device they are using on average 21 times per hour when they are at home.

This is a remarkable finding, though it becomes more believable the more you think about your own habits.  It also begs the question as to whether this number will go higher still as we become more savvy with screens and handling multiple sources of content and information.

This research finding was announced last week to relatively little fanfare.  It is part of a UK-based study that is looking into the future of British consumerism.  As MediaWeek explains, this was a qualitative study of 200 people, which asked people to report which devices they used during one hour of an evening.  The respondents used their mobile phones to record what devices they were using.

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I am intrigued to learn more about this study, but haven’t found much online so far.  Taking these findings at face-value (and I have no reason not to), it’s worth taking a moment to think through what this means for the media industry.

  • Keep in mind that “21” is only an average.  Some respondents, and hence some demographic groups, likely switched many more than 21 times, just as others switched far less.  This raises the bar even higher for all media content producers – that whatever content is being accessed, there is a never-ending need to be continuously entertained and that it must be deemed worthwhile for nearly every moment.  Otherwise, the consumer has a nearly endless source of other sources to check out, not to mention other devices to look at as well.
  • One of the most common questions I hear in radio research is what is the right length for a news piece, topic, or interview? Hopefully, this study (and others like it) will make this question moot and will eliminate the notion of any such thing as a right length for an audio story or a video.  The length is right for as long as the listener/viewer/reader is engaged, is learning something new, and wants to consume more.  For example, in US Public Radio research, quality has always superseded quantity.  Every research study has shown that the length of a piece is irrelevant.  If a piece has quality, then more times than not, the audience is hooked and engaged.  The best storytelling will pause any device switching.
  • Television, in my mind, benefits from being a natural media companion to social media and multiple devices, since typically, you have sit still to consume it.  TV is also leading the way with its experimentation, much of it successfully.  This study underlines why TV shows already promote tweeting during the most popular shows and encourage voting for the most popular entertainer.
  • For the web, it’s a case of the shoe being on the other foot.  Not so long ago, it was the web that was disrupting broadcast media with its customized content on a scale that back then was unprecedented.  Now the web is fighting the same battle and is no different to any other media choice available.  Sure, the web has many more choices but unless it entertains, informs, or shows me something I want to share, then I’m gone.
  • For advertising – the principal target for this study – will this study be the death knell for the 30-second ad?  Surely, we can’t be far from it now.  Marketing is going through a dramatic change right now with greater emphasis on shorter, more personalized ads appearing in many different ways, particularly geotargeting.  One certainty is that any media content that does not adapt to the new ways we now consume media, doesn’t survive in a world in which media occasions are getting shorter and shorter.

Seth Godin is right.  We are our own media companies now.  Even bloggers, such as me, have to say something unique, striking, thought-provoking to capture your valuable reading time.  If you have made it this far in this blog post, then, first, thank you, but also, secondly, recognize that you’ve likely read this in just under 3 minutes, which is about the average time before a person switches their device yet again.

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Five Media Predictions for 2014

The start of a new year provides a one-time, but too-short a moment to dream big and look ahead to the next twelve months.

I’m excited about 2014, not just on a personal and career front, but I can’t stop wondering where things will turn next for how we use media.

Below, I have listed five predictions for the year ahead.  Some of these are my own, others are inspired from elsewhere and duly credited.

  • Let’s hope that the media industry can finally move beyond the upcoming year being labelled as ‘this is the year of mobile‘.  Mobile has arrived already.  In the US, leading content providers in the digital space, such as ESPN, NPR, and The Guardian, are already delivering half (or very close to) of their digital traffic through mobile.  But, frustratingly, there are few players in media who share an honest story when it comes to mobile growth.  Yes, it’s growing with triple-figure percentage-growth, but that’s only because it started from zero not so long ago.  I’m being naive to expect distributors to speak honestly about how much of that amazing growth is in terms of more telling measures – such as persons reached or as a comparison to traditional audience routes, but the entire industry suffers when we’re not acknowledging that broadcast dollars, pounds, and euros are being currently replaced by digital pennies.  Rapid mobile growth does not mean that budgets will be balanced and profits are assured in the years to come.  When we see a direct replacement in revenue from broadcast to digital, then we can more honestly say that ‘this is the year of mobile’.  It won’t be 2014, but the year ahead will see us all move closer to that pivotal and game-changing landmark.
  • The iPad is not yet four years old, though its impact on home computing has been swift and dramatic.  While Apple’s competitors were slow to respond at first, the marketplace is now full of worthy alternatives.  Consumers have a choice to make: a laptop (or desktop) or a tablet?  In 2014, I expect many consumers will start to consider the second choice: what OS (Operating System) am I going to use?  Apple? Android? Windows? Or something else – Linux or Blackberry, etc. While many of the most popular apps offer the same experience, regardless of platform, many of us live in different environments across our own devices – a Windows laptop in the home or at work, an Android smartphone, and an Apple iPad was my own situation until a few weeks ago and it’s probably not a unique one.  Organizing our digital lives is already complicated, but having all devices within one system will make things much easier.
  • Depending on where you sit, you might be feeling quietly confident, economically speaking, about the year ahead.  That’s what the media sector is looking at right now and how its approaching 2014.  Given that things move so fast now in media circles, companies no longer have the option to grow and design products to grow organically – else a competitor is sure to swoop in.  So rather than create something new, companies acquire.  The year ahead might see many in media move from ‘wait and see’ to ‘act now or get left behind’. While this might bode well for consumer choice, companies need to get these big strategic decisions right.  Relatively new players such as Instagram and Snapchat are positioned to do well.  Other entities such as Netflix and Amazon are already moving into creating their own content to ensure they are ahead of the chasing pack. 2014 is going to be a pivotal year for many media entities and a fascinating one to watch.
  • Journalism enjoyed a wild ride in 2013.  The likely result by the end of this year is that many of us will consume news and information very differently than we do now.  Too many big things have happened in the past year, as Matthew Ingram points out, for there not to be some seismic changes very soon.  I have to believe Jeff Bezos has something transformative in mind for the Washington Post.  I cannot imagine the eBay billionaire making a $250 million investment into a brand new news venture not translating it into a massive change in investigative journalism.  And I am excited that an app such as Circa is getting attention and am hopeful that as a mobile-first platform, it can help show the rest of the industry how to “rethink how we consume news on a mobile platform, rather than just re-purposing or redesigning existing content”. All of these events and more will make journalism a fascinating area to watch and experience in the year ahead.
  • For our own sake and well-being, I believe that 2014 will be the year that we collectively realize it’s OK to miss out and go unplugged.  This is not a new idea.  And this movement is not just limited to how we consume media – there’s the Slow Food movement, the Go-Local movement, and more.  It all speaks to backing away from mindless and rapid consumption and re-balancing our hectic lives.  For media, our inability to break away from our screens is already a source of ridicule. We’re seeing it happen already as people start to unplug from the constant slew of updates and take back their own privacy by opting out of Facebook.  But there’s also growing awareness of what you might miss around you – your own children playing, your partner irritated at the lack of attention, not to mention our diminishing attention spans. It points to a re-calibration in the year ahead, realizing that technology has greatly altered our lives permanently and now we need to change and adapt to different relationships and behaviors.

I could list many more here, and some such as the rapid changes in advertising merit being the topic of a future post.  

But now it’s your turn: what are your media predictions for 2014?