It wasn’t so long ago that we relied on TV to reach the mass market. Anyone who advertised during the Super Bowl – or “The Carol Burnett Show” for that matter – could reach a huge percentage of American households. A generation ago, advertising on ABC, NBC or CBS would get you into the majority of American homes, and command the attention advertisers today can only dream about. Back then, multi-tasking meant eating popcorn and watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” at the same time. Advertisers didn’t have the battle for attention they have now.
Today, networks like to tout that they are in "80 million households" but, truthfully, how many people are watching? In September 2012, Nielsen revised down the number of U.S. households watching TV, reflecting the growing popularity of secondary screens like smartphones, tablets and computers.
A popular cable show may have a .5 TV rating. That's about 570,000 U.S. households. Today, 84% of people are doing something else (texting, Facebook-ing, reading, etc.) while watching TV -- something more consuming that eating popcorn, that is. So when you factor in the multi-tasking, a popular cable TV show may only be reaching 91,000 people. Is that really scale?
Mobile, on the other hand, is redefining scale and is just at the beginning of a major secular trend of growth. Apps at the top of iTunes and Google Play are reaching millions of people daily and growing. In the U.S. currently, mobile has become a true mass-market platform: 120 million people own smartphones and 70 million own tablets. This means that by advertising in the right apps, you can drive greater scale than most popular TV shows.
With better processors, bigger and clearer screens, faster connections and more flexible data plans, mobile is becoming a powerful channel not just for utility (making calls, email) but for commerce, social and entertainment experiences. Smartphones and tablets are delivering rich media, which is far more conducive to high-quality video experiences than it was even a year ago.
What’s more, mobile devices are “lean forward.” They’re interactive and (by that description alone) require action. People generally don’t multi-task while on a mobile device. Today, the two most-popular categories of content are games and social, but music, TV everywhere, magazines, sports and news are rapidly growing. The mobile platform is increasingly combining the utility of online with the entertainment of TV on a single device. To this point, according to Google, 33% of smartphone users would rather give up their TV than their handset.
In a battle between TV and smaller screens, the mobile devices will almost always win for share of a person’s attention. As an example, a friend watched the “Golden Globes” while using HootSuite on her iPad. For every great dress, lame speech or brilliant comedic moment, she had a comment. For every comment, she had to type (obviously), find a link, and respond to follow-up comments, etc. – proof that her attention was primarily focused on her mobile device. Judging by the sheer volume of comments across Twitter and Facebook, she was not the only one engaging in this behavior – not by a long shot.
Clearly, TV no longer owns the American consumer in the way it once did. While programming is as good or better than it ever was, Americans are simply too busy to sit down and focus on a single screen on a daily basis. While we’ll agree that many of us could probably benefit from putting our feet up, putting the phone down, and just concentrating on an episode of “Homeland,” the fact is, we’re a nation that is shifting content consumption to places and times that work for us – whenever, wherever. And even when we are at home watching TV, mobile is often a part of that experience, too. So, if you want to reach us anytime, anywhere, mobile is your best bet.