The Netflix Effect: In A Multi-Screen World, Being Seamless Is The Next Big Task

When people use multiple screens throughout the day to accomplish a task, the smartphone is most often the starting point, according to a comprehensive new research study from Google. In fact, the Ipsos/Sterling/Google study of over 1600 users of multiple devices discovered that 90% of consumers are moving across multiple screens in some kind of sequence in order to complete a task, and almost all (98%) are moving between those screens to advance that task on the same day. Sequential multi-screening generally involves Web browsing (81%), social networking (72%), shopping online (67%) and searching for information (63%).   

Perhaps the most striking aspect of sequential multi-screening is that across every major category in which people are using multiple devices, from basic search to shopping to planning a trip to managing finances, the smartphone is always the first screen consulted in that journey that most often extends onto the desktop. In moving across devices, search is most often the common navigational tool users employ across devices. In shopping across screens, for instance, 51% use search to find what they need on both devices, but 48% are navigating directly to a destination site and 31% are emailing the link to themselves to rediscover it.  

The Google/Ipsos/Sterling study goes into much greater depth about simultaneous multi-screen behaviors as well. See the full research at Google’s Mobile Ads Blog. But I think the points about sequential multi-screening are worth calling out and considering, since so much more work has been done already on simultaneous multi-screening.

As Google is right to point out, the real impact of devices is that people are pursuing and continuing activities across screens. It speaks to the basic device agnosticism that consumers are experiencing more perhaps than the media and marketing companies serving them really are providing. They see these digital information sources and tools as contiguous even if they really aren’t in most cases.

The fact that a search needs to be redone on each device suggests that people may be looking to book rooms, find content or track finances on multiple devices, but the actual hand-offs among key providers are not quite there yet. That almost half of us are still emailing links to ourselves when we search for information on one device in order to rediscover it on another shows that in many ways we are still in antediluvian days.

It is not surprising to me that the companies that have understood the need for cross-platform seamlessness are the ones already ahead in the multi-screen world: eBay, Amazon, Netflix, HBO and to a lesser extent Google itself. Actions that occur in my account on one device across these vendors almost always show up immediately on other devices. My Netflix Queue, my Amazon cart, my eBay orders, my HBO watchlist, my Kindle book reading and my Google Drive contents are effectively seamless experiences.

I can pick up and leave off on any of the multiple screens on which I use them. I am making my way through HBO’s "The Wire" series at last after all of these years and I couldn’t tell you whether I am watching it on the iPad on my Stairmaster, on my iPhone in bed, on my laptop when traveling or on my TV at night. I am doing all of them, and I honestly don’t care which is which.

Seamlessness is an opportunity for poaching. The brands that make me work less in order to perform multi-screen tasks are the ones that will maintain my focus over time. For me, Google is already in the process of hijacking my iPad Web surfing from Apple. Its Chrome browser is not only fast, but it synchronizes my bookmarks and even my browsing histories (segmented by device) across screens. I can open a new tab on my desktop and see what I was browsing last night on my iPad.

The issue at hand for many brands will be surfacing that seamlessness. For multimedia services like Netflix and HBO, the queue or watchlist is the nomenclature that communicates this seamlessness to the user so they count on it. At Amazon, recommendations and the ubiquitous Cart do this job. In Google Chrome the synchronization is not as obvious, and some of these features take some hunting. I believe marketers should make seamlessness a feature, not a function. Find ways to alert people across platforms, highlight the ways in which your mobile site works in tandem with desktop and tablet. This is a bit different from the simple ubiquity of cloud resources like Google Drive or iCloud and DropBox, although all of these are seamless by their very nature.

What Google is highlighting in this research is task-driven multi-screening. People are tracking and developing activities and tasks throughout a single day on devices. It is a relay race of a sort, and the marketers that win our loyalty will be the ones that effect the smooth hand-off.   

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