Moments, Media and Modes: Devices Offer A Big Do-Over

The first thing I did upon cracking open the iPhone 5 this week was check its video performance. Sure, grabbing, buffering and  streaming a video clip is a bit of a natural torture test for any wireless network. But it is telling that going to video was my reflex in trying to see how well I could stretch the iPhone 5’s blazing new clip and 4G network. Video is mobile currency, but it is also the media gold standard. It is the measure of a platform’s readiness to deliver the full range of experiences to which we have become accustomed. It is the content type that mobile scan codes most often render. It's why Netflix and Hulu remain among the most popular apps on any smartphone or tablet -- andwhy Amazon and Barnes & Noble are pressing hard to build video businesses for their respective reader/tablets.

For its first years, mobile media was characterized as drive-by consumption. Content providers and marketers were advised to make their content “snackable” for people “on-the-go.” The reality is that much of mobile usage occurs in the home during times of leisure. Not only that, but increasingly we are seeing evidence that mobile means anything but snackable. It means focus and engagement.

James Smith, CEO of Warner Bros.-owned movie guide Flixster, shared with me some cross-platform stats on content and video consumption across the company’s Web presence as Rotten Tomatoes and app/mobile Web presence as Flixster. Over 48% of tablet users of the Flixster service view videos, while 25% of smartphone users initiate a stream. Both of those figures are “multiples” higher than the standard visitor to RottenTomatoes.com.  

“We see in all of this that in mobile there is ‘power usage,’” says Smith. While video consumption off the Web is off the charts, the smartphone is a place where people are engaged and taking action. They are performing commerce (buying tickets) or clicking on ads. In fact, the clickthrough rate on phones is 5.8 times higher than it is on the Web site. Smith says that in trying to compare apples to apples, he looked at a stock display banners across platforms, including the leaderboard on the Web. And he found that “behavior on the smartphone is more action-oriented” than on the Web.

To put the lie to the conventional wisdom of mobile media as somehow fleeting and shallow, it's important to note that within this genre at least devices win hands-down. The tablet user is spending 12 minutes per session, the smartphone user 9 minutes and the Web user 5 minutes.

Smith has some interesting speculation about the ways in which situation affect usage. In fact, the office environment that characterized a great deal of the daytime Web use for the last decade and a half, may be the least conducive for media and marketing engagement. “What we see is the phone as an extension of the consumer’s anatomy and not attached to a desk,” he says. “They are unbound in terms of the time they can spend.” Smith says that the overall level of engagement on tablets is substantially higher than on the Web, with 33% more page views per session.

Spin this observation out and you entertain the notion that the daytime Web user is constrained by time and context. If much of Web use is going on in offices and cubes around the country, then how much time can these viewers spend watching loud movie trailers? The search driven, task-oriented mode of daytime Web use arguably was never conducive to some of the media and marketing experiences so many companies have been trying to provide. With devices, untethered from desk, work, and office situation, a new mode of consuming digital media allows for users to engage content that didn’t get a fair shake on the desk.

What is clear from these and other statistics we are seeing of late is that devices represent a massive opportunity for marketers to rethink their relationships with consumers. Size matters, but not in the ways we might expect. Smaller screens not only engage us in different times but in different modes of use and receptivity. They are removed from the situation that defined the “PC” in its first decades – as a business machine with entertaining benefits. How many other windows are open on your desktop just ready to distract you from the next necessary to-do? Clutter of many kinds is the defining characteristic of desktop consumption.

Devices may well serve digital media the way we always wanted them – outside of the geekiest interface ever devised for media consumption (the “browser”) and the day parts least conducive to engagement.

Targeting gets more complicated but perhaps more rewarding under these new and more complex conditions. Now we really do have to contemplate moments in people’s day, the mode in which they encounter the message, and the media on which they experience it.    

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