Will the iPad Eat TV Next?


Precisely what kind of market threat or usage shift the iPad represents has been unclear in this first year since its release. With such a bubble of male, tech-obsessed early adopters racing to get those first ten million or so devices, it was hard to extrapolate from early results. After all, users, too, were getting adjusted to the new device. While the iPad has remained a fixture in my nightly media rituals, I also know other mediaholics who just don't use it much anymore. The platform's lack of productivity chops just sent a lot of those techie types rushing back for a keyboard.

But among the converted Tablet-ocracy, Charlton Heston's infamous warning about trying to take his gun from his "cold dead hands" applies. The tablet has a tendency to eat other platforms. To wit, in the new AdMob/Google study of more than 1400 tablet users 43% say they spend more time with this device than they do with their desktop or laptop computer. As recent industry projections have been showing, tablet sales are starting to chew up netbook and other PC sales.

But here is the news flash. In this same study, 34% said they spend more time with their tablet each day than they do watching the king of all media: TV. That is a metric to give one pause. Now, to be sure, the tablet is not said to be replacing TV, but its importance in people's lives is clearly on the rise. In the AdMob survey 59% said they use tablets more than books and 52% use them more than radio, 41% more than smartphones.

The point is not that tablets are replacing TV viewing, or at least I don't think that is what is going on. The overwhelming majority of use is occurring during prime time in the evening. I am sure I am not alone in using the device as my main distraction while watching TV. In some respects, my iPad has become a portable TV. I use it to time-shift morning TV news to my workout period later in the morning or to catch up on Sunday news shows - all available as video podcasts. Apps from ABC, PBS, 60 Minutes and the like give me DVR-like access to full length programming, and Netflix rounds it out. It is a highly mobile DVR.

Which is not to say that most users are turning the tablet into a second video screen. In fact, AdMob found that consuming entertainment content was among the least common uses, cited by only 51%. More than anything else, the tablet is being used as a game playing device (84%), a search tool (78%), an email reader (74%) and a platform for reviewing news (61%).

My suspicion is that the threat tablets pose to TV is less about mind share than it is about sheer devotion. Tablets are proving to have the graphic lushness of the TV screen with the multi-purpose versatility of the PC/laptop and the portability of a cell phone. It is at its most alluring when it not only time-shifts content but also place-shifts us away from the desktop or even from the living room. One earlier statistic on the tablet showed that about a fifth of usage was occurring in bed. Not me. In bed I would have to share.

From my cold, dead hands.
3 comments about "Will the iPad Eat TV Next?".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 13, 2011 at 1:14 p.m.

    Seems like everything has to "kill TV". Funny thing is that the TV has proven, well, resilient.

    Thirty years ago VCR's were going to be the death of TV. Oops. DVR's were going to kill TV advertising. Turns out they make TV advertising more effective. GoogleTV was going to kill TV. Turns out it's just a search engine glommed onto the side of a TV...

    Offering to "kill TV" must be a great way to raise venture funds. Because people keep hyping the idea. Fortunately, the habit hasn't yet hit the food industry. We have yet to be told that pre-sliced bagels will "kill TV".

  2. Philip Moore from Philip Moore, April 13, 2011 at 1:53 p.m.

    If it eats TV, it's only so that it can regurgitate it at will, like a momma bird feeding her young. Or by "TV" do you mean the box and not the content. If you mean that other wall-mounted delivery system for the same content, then sure, the mobile delivery device that I can use to retrieve my favorite content wherever and whenever I choose will ultimately win out.

  3. Bob Kiger from Videography Lab, April 13, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

    If everyone on the planet were given a free iPad with no charge plan and instructions "to just go for it!", the world wireless infrastructure would come to a screeching hault.

    iGadget mania is a particularly interesting phase of commercial culture, since less than 15 years ago Bill Gates lent Apple $157,000,000 to survive and today Apple is second only to Exxon Mobile in market capitalization.

    Those who say "in Apple we trust" should bear in mind that between iTunes [controlling software distribution] and Apple Computers [controlling hardware production] the company does have an unparalleled global class business plan.

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