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The Era of the Passive Consumer Is Over

  |  May 11, 2012   |  Comments

The mix of smartphones, tablets, and PCs is radically changing consumers' media consumption behavior.

Whether it's shopping in a store, commuting to work, or sitting on the sofa watching TV, the consumer is not passive anymore.

We have changed our media consumption behavior along the same lines as we have changed our way of working - finding ourselves not only working at the office, but from the road, at home, or at any location for that matter. As individuals we are getting more and more used to having access to content wherever we are and whenever we want it. We are no longer bound to a specific place or screen. Moreover, we are using several screens and media types at the same time.

The mix of smartphones, tablets, and PCs is radically changing our media consumption behavior. Many consumers are no longer simply sitting down to watch TV but instead are splitting their viewing time up into small chunks. They're "snacking" instead of having a three-course meal.

And what is a TV anyway? It's just the biggest screen. Smart TVs, game consoles, and tablets could very well rule as the key devices. We will most likely see OS, user interfaces, and even apps that got their start on smartphones and/or tablet screens find a home on the TV screen.

Good and bad news.

First, the good: if done right, we now have the opportunity to reach consumers at the right place at the right time with the right message and maybe also the right price. Being on-the-go no longer hinders their ability to consume media. Quite often they have a touch screen, which further enhances interactive communication and opens up a two-way channel for instant feedback and discussion.

The bad news: we don't really know what this means for attention span. If you're watching content on multiple screens, potentially also communicating with your friends through email or social media, and maybe even taking the time to do price comparisons or direct shopping, are you paying attention to all of these interactions or even focusing enough on one of these channels? This may not be the case or maybe there are generational differences; maybe it even enhances certain types of focus. The problem is that no one knows for certain - yet.

More bad news: how do you accurately measure what the user is doing in the multi-screen environment and on what device? How effective is the communication? How economical is the communication?

From an interactive advertising perspective, it's finally becoming clearer how TV dollars can become interactive dollars. However, if we want this to happen at the same time as the behavior of individuals changes, we need to find formats that work across screens and solutions that scale. We also need to make sure the actual production cost does not supersede the advertising and branding opportunity.

IAB (where I work) is working at fulfilling this vision on several levels - through development of the new Rising Stars ad formats, work on the cross-industry Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, as well as through extensive research around consumer usage and cross media ad effectiveness.

Ultimately, the benefits of multiscreen usage cannot be fully tapped until we completely understand the opportunities and address the challenges that all these screens bring to life. This year, IAB's Innovation Days @ Internet Week is bringing together industry leaders and influencers to explore this very topic, with the theme of "Screens (n)." I hope to see you there, because all hands need to be on deck if we plan to take advantage of all of the screens that are currently on deck in consumers' day-to-day lives.


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Anna Bager

Anna Bager is vice president and general manager of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The Mobile Center, an independently funded and staffed unit inside the IAB, is charged with driving the growth of the mobile marketing, advertising, and media marketplace.

Prior to joining the IAB, Bager was heading business intelligence at Ericsson Multimedia and head of research at Ericsson's Business Consulting unit. Earlier, she was research and consulting manager for IDC EMEA.

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