Four Distributed Experience Trends to Watch

You know it’s the new year when you find yourself in the middle of the multimedia sensory explosion known as the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Walking the show floor is an annual rite of passage for those in the technology, entertainment, media, and convergence industries as everyone absorbs the various, often competing, visions of tomorrow’s technology. Once your head stops spinning and you’ve determined who won the war of the largest television (I believe the winner had a 110″ plasma display), it’s time to separate technology reality from technology fantasy.

My company sent six attendees (myself included) to observe new trends and identify potential changes to consumer media habits. The exhibiting brands may not have the final answer, but their consumer insights often lead to the development of new technologies and, eventually, new products.

We noticed four trends, all of which are distributed media experiences. These trends may not affect your brand today, but they’re definitely ones to watch.

IPTV

IPTV (define) promises to extend traditional cable’s offering while giving customers more service provider and channel choices (responding to FCC pressure to offer consumers more choice).

Hype or not, the platform’s real in the eyes of equipment manufacturers, software developers, and eager telecommunications companies. Big players drive big trends, so it wasn’t surprising Microsoft announced IPTV integration into the Xbox 360 during its keynote presentation, while Motorola and Samsung demonstrated operator software and customer set-top boxes.

The equipment itself is more functional than today’s cable and DVR boxes, with the potential for numerous simultaneous recordings and multiple picture-in-picture opportunities. Consumers can even control their IPTV equipment online, in case they forgot to record a show. With such integrated capability, it’s only a matter of time before “click to record” banner ads appear online, allowing users to enter their DVR information so the TV show is automatically recorded.

Ambient Information

This year, many devices and products utilized ambient information delivery to enhance the digital user experience.

Devices featured subtle embedded displays to communicate immediate information such as weather, financial conditions, traffic, sports scores, and more. MSN Direct demonstrated new MSN Direct products beyond its Spot watches and showed a series of Melitta coffeemakers, Oregon Scientific weather stations, display devices, and Garmin GPS devices.

This flurry of new devices builds on last year’s consumer awareness of RSS (define) and widgets. Combine all this with the upcoming consumer launch of Windows Vista (with its desktop gadgets), and it’s a safe bet we’ll see strong growth in the ambient device category.

If we do, watch the growing consumer interest (and eventual reliance) of ambient devices as they begin to bypass traditional on- and offline media sources for quick information. Think about this the next time you’re considering branded desktop applications and widgets.

Mobile TV

True mobile TV continues to move closer to reality by using over-the-air transmissions to deliver TV signals to phones (similar to TVs with antennas).

Samsung and LG showed TV-capable handsets that receive real-time TV broadcasts from select cable operators. In addition, LG demonstrated mobile DVR technology that records shows in case you need to take a call while watching TV. With carriers already offering a variety of on-demand TV services, mobile video is quickly maturing to a state where consumers have real, viable options to watch television on the go. That spells an interesting emerging opportunity for advertisers.

Moving Your Media

iPods, Zunes, Amazon.com, and others have proven consumers want to take their media with them. Moveable media continues to be a hot subject in the consumer electronics world, as TiVo, Slingbox, and Sony all showcased new wares to access your home digital content from desktop computers and mobile devices.

TiVo demonstrated TiVo to Go for a variety of mobile devices. Sling demonstrated its updated line of products, announced players and plans for virtually every mobile platform, and appeared in CBS’ keynote with its new Clip+Sling personal community service, which allows Sling owners to share short media clips with non-Sling owners.

Sony demonstrated content interconnectivity between the PlayStation 3 (PS3) and PlayStation Portable (PSP) via its “Remote Play” function. PS3 owners can access their content library, including saved photos, videos, and downloads, from its “PlayStation Network Store” via their PSPs. The functionality is limited to the user’s local Wi-Fi connection for now, but by mid-summer the service should be accessible from anywhere there’s an Internet connection.

The Bottom Line

What do all these trends mean to your brand? Consumers continue to have more choices to leverage linear and personal media, further fragmenting your potential audience. Morning commuters may no longer rely on the radio traffic report, local television news, or weather.com for immediate, relevant info. Instead, they may just glance at their coffeemakers as their pour their coffee.

Think about these “lost impressions” as new opportunities. You know what’s on the horizon. Think about these evolving consumer choices, and be the first out of the gate with innovative brand and media activation strategies that enhance consumers’ experience. And let me know how it goes.

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