As screens get increasingly getting cheaper and more ubiquitous, are we going to keep counting them?
Not too long ago, I was asked to give a presentation on the state of digital media and how well brands are intersecting the worlds of marketing and technology. Prior to my closing keynote, there was a panel discussion about the state of media. One senior media executive was discussing the power of "a four screen world." I thought that he had made a mistake. I was familiar with the concept of three screens (television, computer and mobile), but four screens was something new. Eventually, he unveiled that the fourth screen was the tablet.
It's still somewhat shocking to think that the iPad was first introduced on April 3rd, 2010, and we now live in a world where Apple is selling more iPads than any PC manufacturer is selling of their entire PC line. This has been a steadily growing trend since 2012. And yet this is the fourth screen?
The basic dilemma for marketers is this: there are now too many screens to count. Set aside PCs, tablets, smartphones, and TVs (connected or otherwise), for a moment. Your car, your thermostat, your washer and dryer, your refrigerator are all on their way to being "smart" as well — connected to the internet and to each other, featuring screens that offer up all sorts of information, from usage data to content, like a fridge that suggests recipes based on the food stored inside.
This means the future is not about three screens or four screens or fourteen screens. It's about one screen: whichever screen is in front of me. In a world where screens are connected and everywhere, the notion of even counting them seems arbitrary, at best. If you don't believe me, speak to somebody currently sporting Google Glass.
At the same time that screens are proliferating, they're also integrating.
My niece is nineteen years old. When she was sixteen, she would come home from school, take out her laptop, plop down on the couch, lift the computer lid, turn on the TV, plug in her iPod earbuds, and set her BlackBerry down next to her. From afar, it looked like she was running NORAD. But fast-forward a mere three years, and now she comes home from school, takes out her iPad... and that's it.
All of that core content is now readily available on one screen. From content (in text, images, audio, and video) to communications (chatting with friends on Skype or via Google Hangouts), it's all there on this one device that rules them all.
This convergence is happening because, no matter how many screens you buy, you only have one pair of eyes. Yes, we are seeing a massive uptick in consumers who are using companion devices (meaning, they are watching TV but have their smartphones nearby), and while the industry does refer to it as a companion device, the truth is that you're not watching the television with one eyeball and tweeting on your iPhone with the other. You're seeing one screen at a time.
Welcome to the one-screen world.
Here we are, today, with over a billion smartphones in the world. They outnumber the PCs. Fifteen percent of online retail sales will take place this year via mobile devices, according to eMarketer, and that's a 56% increase from 2012. Within the next decade, virtually all mobile phones will be smartphone, meaning six billion people will be constantly connected. We already live in a world where more individuals have a mobile subscription than access to safe drinking water.
And yet, according to a recent survey by Adobe, 45% of marketers say their firms still don't have a mobile presence. Businesses are still splitting hairs of what is the web, what is the smartphone, what is the tablet, and what is TV. Instead of hunkering down and figuring out what the customer's new expectations are when everything from their washer and dryer to their television and smartphone are hyper-connected to one another, most marketers are just worrying about how they're going to advertise on a mobile screen. Advertising? That's not the revolution here. Now, brands don't just advertise on someone else's mobile site, they can build their own apps, tools, and programs of engagement that make mobile a different kind of media. They can create value through offering a mobile service or app that is truly useful. They can touch their consumers in ways that are both contextual and location-aware. This is the proverbial "last mile" that all marketers were hoping for: contextual, personal, and by location.
If ever there was a time to embrace the notion of the one-screen world, this would be it. Increasingly, consumers are rolling these screens up into one. They're streaming video from their tablets and laptops to their TVs. They're watching TV shows on their phones. They simply want the content they like on the device they prefer, when they want it.
The rise of mobile gives marketers a tremendous opportunity to rethink what their jobs really are. Don't send me a coupon or bombard me with ads for the latest washing machine; don't blast me with a text message while I'm in a department store's appliance center. Create an app that lets me control my washing machine, so I can start my washing on my way home from the office, so it's not sitting wet all day in the washer.
Remember, at the end of the day, your customers only have one pair of eyes, and they're only looking at one screen: the one that interests them.
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