Why Did Mobile Usage Grow During Last Year's Lockdown?

Mobile usage keeps ticking up, now representing 32% of our total daily media time -- this in the wake of all video streaming and other media gains in 2020. Should we be surprised?

Last year, time with mobile grew 14%, to average 4 hours/16 minutes of daily use versus 2019. That growth rate was almost double that of 2019 over 2018. 

EMarketer projects that by the end of 2023,  the number will grow to 4 hours/35 minutes -- comprising a 35% share of all daily media time.

Future gains, however, will now come at slower single digit percentage gains, according to eMarketer projections -- 2.5%, 2.4%, and 2.2% for each of the years 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Perhaps the fascinating part for some is, mobile use in 2020 rose sharply amid a long pandemic disruption where people found themselves stuck at home -- and, in theory, not needing mobile devices.

Smartphone use, to no one’s surprise, comprises mobile’s largest piece -- a 72% share, projected to be 3 hours/10 minutes of daily use this year.  It was up 18% in 2020 over 2019. Tablet use grew 6% in 2020 over 2019, to one hour/13 minutes.

So, if the pandemic has shed new light on the media, it probably revealed what people have known for a long time: We use mobile everywhere -- even when we are just sitting still and not moving.

And through the years, and also to no one’s surprise, mobile growth came hand in hand with decreasing landline phone use. So, if we are stuck at home -- without much person-to-person interaction -- connecting with someone via a phone is even more important.

So describing it as mobile device/usage can be a bit of misnomer. The pandemic has blurred many definitions of media use. Anything else coming?

3 comments about "Why Did Mobile Usage Grow During Last Year's Lockdown?".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, June 17, 2021 at 5:44 p.m.

    Very interesting Wayne.

    I wonder how the research defines/measures 'mobile usage' and indeed 'media usage'.   Mobile grew to 4h 16m which was 32% of 'media time'.   This means that 'media time' was 13h 20m per day (55.5% of the 24-hour day).

    I don't know about you, but I tend to sleep around a quarter to a third of the 24 hour day.    Oh, and I also have to earn a living.  

    IMHO the 'media time' seems disproportionately high.   I have no doubt that somewhere in the background there is media activity, but is that really 'media time'?   I would suspect that as the 'user' was not conscious of that media contact that there was zero effective media interaction which is what an advertiser is after when they buy advertising.  For example while I am working I probably spend around an hour a day on the 'phone, an hour or two on emails per day.  And yes, 'work'.

    So, yes the phone and the PC are 'media' delivery devices, but it doesn't hold that because I am using a 'media capable'' device means that I am actually interacting with any of the media.

    Food for thought I hope.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 17, 2021 at 6:13 p.m.

    In my book, "media time" is when a medium---TV, radio, print, digital---provides content of one kind or another that is intended to be consumed by audiences and, in many cases---but not all---also carries ads. I don't regard a smartphone call to a friend or to check one's bank balance or to buy something online as "media time". Nor is most email activity or texting "media time" as I have defined it.

    Just because its done electronically that doesn't mean that its "media time". And the same goes for out -of- home activity. Why not count the average amount of time a person spends commuting to work or school or shopping or visiting  folks or travelling as "media time"? After  such activity often has the person passing by outdoor posters and if the activity takes place in a mall---where there are many ads---isn't that, too, "media time"? Also, there is the so-called  "multitasking" factor. About 10-15% of "media time" involves two or more electronic media being activated at the same time---but at any given second, the "audience"can only be attentive to one of them. How do you account for this?

    Which brings up the question of attentiveness. In the case of TV but also for digital media and audio, a fairly large amount of "media time" takes place when the "audience isn't present and another large part involves inattentive audiences---totally or partially engaged in other activities or simply not paying attention. When you deduct these times your average daily "media time" per adult drops  to around six hours---which is a far more realistic figure than the 12-13 hours per day that is so often quoted as the norm.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, June 17, 2021 at 9:38 p.m.

    Totally agree Ed.

    OOH goes some way by reducing the OTS to an LTS number - it took some time in Oz to reach consenus between seller and buyer on that one.

    I think that the core of the issue is that we have to rely more heavily on measuring people's verified behaviour than unmonitored device activity.   As most would know, 'phones, tablets and PCs ping data around in the background all the time (but I doubt few would know the  extent that it happens), so elapsed time can be a misleading metric.   A probably good proxy for human activity would be 'keyboard' based or initiated activity on such devices.

    Of course this would only serve to produce more representative usage data - but still not the Holy Grail of 'attentive usage'.   One issue is that attentiveness can vary widely between users, more so than behavioural variations.   An example is advertising signs in malls.   People wend their way around the mall meaning that not everyone who enters the mall will see each panel, but the reduction of Traffic to OTS using normative data is broadly representative of panel traffic.   Then adding LTS using normative behaviour as to how many people would have actuallly cognitively seen the panel (as vision is limbic) produces usable data - for the panel.   The issue then becomes whether the advertiser's content on the panel can retain the attention of the passer-by and also whether it stokes their interest in the brand/product.

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