Commentary

TV Apps - Ready For Prime Time?

When speaking at conferences or writing columns, I’ve sought to remind people that those in the media and associated industries are not like the people most media owners and advertisers depend on for financial success.

Indeed, my colleagues at Media Behavior Institute undertook a small research project that focused on exactly this issue; the results were shared at the Collaborative Alliance, part of last year’s Advertising Week festivities. Devices used and the extent to which they were used were markedly different between our sample of media pros and a broader sample of the population, providing the same data in the same way at the same time.

Even though I have spent much of my working life gather data and insights about the realities of human behavior and the factors that drive or inhibit media usage, once in a while even a hard-bitten cynic like me is caught by surprise.

One such occasion occurred last week. My colleagues and I have recently been involved in a project that — among other things — included my viewing a handful of focus groups centered around understanding more about viewing behaviors, platform and program preferences, etc.

Respondents were from a cross-section of the population and were not drawn from major cities like New York and Los Angeles, but instead from states like Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, Oregon.

Part of the discussion in each group addressed raised the subject of apps — phone or tablet — as a means of finding information about TV programming.

To say that discussion on the subject was brief would be an understatement. Only one respondent out of the entire sample said she used an app for such a purpose. She was 22. No other respondent of any age or gender laid claim to usage — and in most cases, respondents didn’t know how such a process would work. They indicated a distinct lack of familiarity with TV-related apps. Some were simply lost by the question.

As someone who uses apps for a wide variety of things — despite my instinctive caution about being led by industry noise rather than the realities of consumer behavior and attitudes — I was surprised at the extent of both the lack of comprehension and usage of such apps.

We continue to be excited by the apparently rapid increases in device penetration and usage of apps of various kinds.  The same applies to second screening and social TV, though it is growing from a low base.

When one witnesses the kind of response I’ve described above to simple questions about the use of these functions, it demands that we think hard about who is using apps, and drill down into relevance and frequency. Is growth being led by the coasts and major cities, by specific demographics or attitudinal groups?

And even if it is growing, is it still big enough to warrant serious attention, relative to all the other things on our collective plates?  I’d like to think the emerging channels will get some degree of attention, but if you’re trying to promote content and have finite resources to do so, one has to wonder how far down the pecking order mobile apps should be.

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2 comments about " TV Apps - Ready For Prime Time?".
  1. Dana Farbo from Sparks Grove , January 30, 2013 at 7:55 a.m.
    This is a good topic for many different categories of apps. We are still early in the adoption and use of smartphones and tablets, let alone apps and the market will determine how the best model plays out. Beyond just TV, the proliferation of content channels on the web and tablet app ecosystem bodes well for a system to help people find shows and content they prefer. My old partners at www.yo.tv and www.tvguide.co.uk have millions of users and yet still realize just a fraction of the possibilities that will play out as the market further matures. As in most markets, the best will continue to rise and the dust will settle on the also-rans.
  2. Mike Bloxham from Frank N. Magid Associates , January 30, 2013 at 8:10 a.m.
    Dana, I agree that the market will determine the extent to which the category succeeds (and at what rate) and which players rise to the top. It will also be interesting to see the ratios of those who download and app to those who become habitual users - thereby delivering scale. Some types of apps are getting there for sure, but others - such as the type detailed above - seem to be benefiting more from industry excitement than use at scale.