Does Screen Size Even Matter?

Way back when high-def television was new, the selling point was the stunningly great picture. Now, with 4K sets, that’s the same pitch.

But in between, there seems to be a great big viewership pool that doesn’t care all that much. Viewers like big screen TV for all of its oversized pixels, but millions will watch on an itty-bitty smartphone or slightly larger cousins.

It seems like a contradiction: Video content has become something we look at so often  consumers don’t even care what it looks like.

There is an industry of tech companies that will tell me I’m dead wrong. Getting a video quickly and without stops and stutters is hugely important. But those stunning landscapes that help sell big TV sets are not very relevant overall, past those glitches.

The marvelous nature videos from Sir David Attenborough are tremendously less marvelous on handheld devices. And so what?

I’m writing all this because of one paragraph from MediaPost’s Marketing Daily story by Aaron Barr explaining that according to the Consumer Technology Association: “The time people spend watching video on television (51%) is about the same as the time they spend watching video on other technology devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones (49%).

"At the same time, consumers are watching more video than before. On average, the amount they watch has increased to 32% since 2001, to about 3.2 hours a day (or 16.8 hours a week).”

I understand the quality of video is all around better, even on smaller devices. But a huge amount of video consumed now is short, and making an posting a video isn’t at all difficult or unique and its makers aren't too concerned with picture quality.  

If you’ve seen online video, a lot of it is anything but artful. Even newscasts now arrange Skype interviews that are, by visual and audio standards, miserable. No one cares. It is what it is.

Jawed Karim posted the first YouTube video on April 23, 2005  at the zoo. ”All right, so here we are in front of the elephants,” he said, with the kind of stooped-over apologetic body language you get when you’re documenting yourself doing something unremarkable. What that video started!

People now watch 1 billion hours of YouTube videos a day. Eight years after Karim went to the zoo, the Pew Research Center reported, about three in 10 online adults posted a video to a Web site, and “35% said they did so in hopes that it would be widely viewed or ‘go viral.’ "

It’s not an unreasonable dream. But it’s an odd world in which one content provider will spend $6 billion this year on programs — competing with a bunch of amateurs around the world messing around in their backyards.

5 comments about "Does Screen Size Even Matter? ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 9, 2017 at 11:47 a.m.

    I know I pointed this out before, but it has been a while. Screen size depends on how close your face is to the screen. Try this out: At home, sit in front of your big screen TV at the usual comfortable distance.  Then hold a tablet up in front of your face and judge the relative size difference between the two screens (not in actual screen size inches because the tablet will always lose). It's usually not that much difference when you compare sitting 10 or more feet away from a 40-inch screen to a 9-inch screen at less than an arms-length. Your mileage may vary, but Netflix on a handheld iPad is the same experience as Netflix on the wall at a distance.

  2. brad berger from aim high tips, March 9, 2017 at 11:49 a.m.

    We are living in the Screen Age. Starting with television screens have slowly but surely taken over our lives. Paper is being replaced by screens: cellphones, computers and televisions, the screen media. Just as messages on rocks were replaced by the medium of paper we are now travelling with screens.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, March 9, 2017 at 1:46 p.m.

    We can get far smarter on this one. And I'll offer a few observations:

    • Programming Trumps Picture Quality. When I did research with early satellite systems, it was clear that consumers didn't have an issue with picture quality. So all the hype about digital picture was overblown. DirecTV's experience proved that. They had some early adopter crazies for a while. But they only grew after introducting PROGRAMMING. 

    • But Presentation is Often Important. From what I read, I don't think the "51% on a TV" number is accurate. But even supposing it is, consumers have segmented their viewing. After all, most web video isn't WORTH trying to put on a TV - there's no big benefit from it. BUT, want to rent "The Force Awakens" and watch it with your friends or family? Nothing can compete with the TV screen.

    • HDTV Adoption Misled Us. The manufacturers want us to believe that HDTV was adopted by consumers for picture quality. I don't think so. From what I see, it was (finally) a way to get a good picture on a big screen. Just remember what it took to haul out that previous massive tube...then replaced with the more convenient bigger screen that happened to be HDTV. In percentages, I'll guess that 25-30% of HDTV satisfaction is picture quality. But the majority of the satisfaction is that it's a better product for consumers - lighter, easier to move, hangable, slimmer, throw out the entertainment center, etc...

    • At the same time HDTV hit, the best news channels featured really ugly, low res live feeds from Afghanistan and Iraq. Programming again trumped quality. So we paid all the money for this sexy new hi res screen then watched digitally fragmented, low frame rate, low res feeds...and they were really compelling viewing.

    Truth is, I'm not sure there's much to learn here that we didn't know. Except to remember it's that programming trumps quality. And there's real desire to watch great programming on a great TV.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 9, 2017 at 2:44 p.m.

    The Consumer Technology Association's estimate of how people divide their video viewing time probably comes from one of those studies where a sample of respondents---perhaps mostly younger ones---estimates the extent of such activity by platform. It certainly doesn't match up well with Nielsen's meterized findings. As for screen size, it also matters what kind of content is involved. If it's a filmed sci-fi movie with lots of unusual vistas and special effects action, size must matter a lot. If it's a typical TV talking head show, size probably is not nearly as important ---though still of some value-- in stimulating "engagement".

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 9, 2017 at 10:34 p.m.

    Grandma, what big eyes you have ! Better to see you, my dear. Size matters.

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