Seamless Media: An AppleTV A Day Keeps Prime Time Away

“360” is the new buzzword to wear out its welcome in just a few months of over-use. If I get one more pitch from earnest marketers and publishers about their “360” experience, I will barf… or scream… or die… or whatever clichéd response one has to a tired cliché.

The fact is that “360” almost always describes a media plan, not a media experience. It usually means that a marketer or publisher distributes the brand at multiple touch points, letting the consumer encounter the marketing message or the media online, on TV, in print, and on mobile. The hope is that the user will surround herself with the brand and access it throughout her day. But “360” does not really describe the way in which the consumer experiences the message. More often than not, the viewer/listener/reader is picking up the brand at one, maybe two touchpoints.

Even an unapologetic mediaholic like myself still maintains fragmented media relationships across the platforms. When it comes to news, for instance, I rely on CBS on mobile, in large part because I find their SMS alert system so friendly and judicious, while my WAP experience usually starts with USAToday because their site is simply more evolved and mobile-ready than any other I have encountered.

On the Web, however, I still have CNN.com high on my bookmarks, but I am also doing a quick pan and scan of my Google feeds from multiple sources, and then I cobble together my own fair and balanced political opinion by going to and fro between liberal RAWStory and around-the-bend DrudgeReport.

In reality, no single news brand has more than 40-degrees of my attention arc. There is always the possibility that one of these sources will expand its arc with me, so it is important for each of them to make their 360 case wherever they can. We just don’t know yet whether the media fragmentation process we have been experiencing personally and as an industry will lead to some kind of personal media convergence. Will I and others tire of this process of cobbling together sources? At some point, will I decide that whatever variety I might lose in relying on one or two sources is worth the efficiency of having better integration of my information?

I have none of these answers yet, but there is one thing I am learning from my AppleTV: seamlessness is a very attractive and overlooked aspect of multiplatform delivery, and it has a direct effect on my media consumption habits. After a couple of months with my unit, I have to say that it is not only important to have my media move with me across TV, PC and handheld platforms. Just as valuable is how the platform tracks my usage and lets me drop a TV show at midpoint on one platform and pick it up where I left off on another. If my AppleTV, PC iTunes, and iPod are all in synch, then the show I started watching in my living room is appropriately bookmarked in the system and I can pick it up where I left off elsewhere. That is a genuine 360 experience.

I have also discovered that some of the conventional wisdom of 360 branding is not set in stone. Apple’s cross-platform experience pretty much makes the same media available for use across screens, while we usually presume that audio and video require radical re-fitting to the platforms. In fact, seamlessness helps overcome part of this barrier. If I know I can finish that TV episode in my living room, I am more apt to take a quick taste of it on my iPod. If I am really engaged in an audio podcast on the handheld, I may actually let it run simply as audio through my home theater. If I am able to dip into the same well of accumulated media at multiple touchpoints, and know that the system is smart enough to bookmark me across the platforms, then I am much more likely to sample from them regardless of the device I am using. An incomplete experience is okay so long as I know I can complete it somewhere else in this ubiquitous ecosystem.

But the most important learning for me about seamlessness is that as the platforms converge, the content fragments. When I say “accumulated media,” I mean just that. Now that I have reliable, cross-platform access to on-demand TV, movies, podcasts, video of all kinds, I have only expanded my brand range. And the expansion is occurring almost entirely on the side of independent and non-TV media. While I do like that I can time-shift “Meet the Press” on my AppleTV, and a few other cable and network brands have slipped into the mix, my iTunes-shared media list has ever more video podcasts from upstarts like WallStrip and Daily Reel, or video from print sources like The New York Times. Even after an hour of iPod surfing at the gym earlier in the day, I spent a good hour of prime time last night just catching up on my queue of pods on AppleTV. Prime time started at about 9 or 9:30 for me. This is very bad news for TV programmers.

Media mavens may want to be careful what they wish for. A 360 experience from the consumer’s perspective is not the same thing as a provider’s 360. From a user’s point of view,  360 adds up differently.