Inside Today's Digital Household

There was a time when understanding consumer use of the Internet was relatively simple — way more complex than understanding engagement with any other medium, sure, but still relatively simple. All we needed to deal with was engagement from computers. There were no tablets, no smartphones, no OTT; your thermostat wasn’t a connected device.

In order to understand digital behavior, we had two core assets available to us, and we could use them alone or in tandem: site-centric “census” measures, typically generated from pixels and tags; and panel-based measurement of individuals, via software meters on computers.

Today though, computers actually account for a minority share of Internet access. Consumers are using smartphones and tablets, wearables, gaming consoles, OTT devices, the Internet of Things. We browse the Web, but we spend large swaths of time in apps. We stream our favorite TV programs, through smart TVs and devices like Roku and Apple TV.

So what does the digital landscape look like in today’s connected household?

At my company, we recently piloted a study in which we placed meters on participants’ WiFi routers, in order to measure digital activity (in an anonymized and aggregated fashion, of course) across all devices in the home.

All findings are preliminary, but many of them are quite eye-opening.

In this panel, the average household had 10 different connected devices devices accessing the Internet through the WiFi router. Naturally, though, the number of devices correlates with household size: more people means more devices. Households of five or more persons averaged over 17 connected digital devices. Perhaps more interesting, though, single-person households in the panel still had an average of six connected digital devices.

About 31% of panel households have a gaming console accessing the Internet. But among households with at least one kid or teen under 18, that figure shoots to 67%. Similarly, among all households, about 35% had at least one OTT device (Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV stick, or some other device). But again, among households with at least one kid or teen under 18, 62% had at least one OTT device.

Of course, households with kids tend to be larger than households without kids, so these differences are almost certainly driven to a large extent by the sheer number of people in the home, regardless of age. Still, the digital environment in which kids and teens today grow up is clearly more complex and diverse than ever before.

Another interesting observation is the sheer array of device types that appear in the database. Phones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and OTT devices all show up. But so do Sonos systems, Blu-Ray Players (in about 16% of households), Apple Watches, Nest thermostats, and other “Internet of Things” devices. While many of these devices aren’t seen as media platforms today, I for one would be loath to predict which devices will or won’t end up as part of an integrated media buy in ten years -- I’ve seen the movie “Minority Report.”

So what does all this mean for measurement of the digital consumer?

Holistic measurement: Clearly, the efficacy of siloed, single-device measurement constructs is limited. We need to build measurement systems that are device-agnostic -- and future-proof. I don’t know what the next innovation will be to match the smartphone or tablet in changing the digital landscape, but I’m certain that landscape will keep changing.

Simultaneous device usage: Increasingly, we’re seeing consumers use a “second screen,” engaging with two platforms at the same time. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing my 11-year-old daughter with her laptop open and her phone propped up beside it. Buyers and sellers of digital advertising (and remember, TV is a digital advertising platform) need to understand how multiple screens work together to provide the full panorama of consumer experience.

Cross-device measurement: Many companies are already working on techniques to measure individual consumers across screens. This is critical to deploying frequency capping, to accurately disentangle reach from frequency for a given campaign, to properly account for attribution, and to understand campaign performance (for example, if exposure to an ad on a computer drives the consumer to shop on her tablet.)

The best thing about working in digital measurement is that there are always new challenges, new problems to solve, and new questions to answer.

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