For TV broadcasters, prime time is 7 p.m. to l1 p.m. In radio, programming and advertising are all about morning "drive time." On the Web, the popularity of social networks like Facebook, instant messaging like Skype and video-on-demand services like Hulu are pushing up usage in the evening.
So what time of day do mobile apps find their biggest audience? A new study by the mobile analytics firm Flurry shows the audience for iPhone and iOS apps rises steadily during the day and peaks at about 9 p.m. That's when half the U.S. app audience is using apps. "Mobile consumers are using apps either instead of, or along-side prime-time television and the Internet," stated a Flurry blog post on the study today.
The finding contributes to a growing body of research suggesting that two-screen viewing is becoming increasingly common while people are watching TV. The relative size of the TV audience during prime time was larger than that for mobile apps, at more than 60%. But app usage remained higher than TV from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and higher than the Internet almost all day. The Internet's reach peaked at 7 p.m., when 40% of the audience for that medium was on the Web.
Flurry estimates the combined number of active iOS and Android devices in the U.S. at 110 million. So at 10 a.m., for example, the 30% of that population using apps at that hour would be about 33 million people. "In theory, apps are like TV shows, in that they reach specific audiences. "With the eventual ability to target apps by various criteria such as age, gender, dayparts and more, advertisers can one day target a tightly defined audience that uses different applications," according to the firm.
To give some perspective on the mobile app audience, Flurry pointed out that the annual "American Idol" finale typically draws 20 million viewers. "Mobile apps already reach more than 20 million U.S. consumers per hour, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. That's already the equivalent of 17 'American Idol' finales each day, or more than 6,200 'American Idol' finales per year," it states.
That may be, but the app audience of 20 million is much more fractured than the equivalent TV one. Unlike the "American Idol" audience, not everyone is watching the same thing at the same time. And presumably, viewers are watching the show all the way through to see who the winner is. How many different apps is someone using in a given hour or two-hour period? If apps are like TV shows, what single app has 20 million users at the same time for the same length of time spanning a wide demographic range?
Not even "Angry Birds" could guarantee that. And if apps are well suited to targeted advertising, that does not suggest advertisers will look to them to reach a mass audience -- even if there are 110 million app users. The ability for mobile consumers to access content when and where they want, for any time span, makes the medium fundamentally different from traditional TV. The difference remains even if usage between the two media may coincide in the evening.