Consuming media – underpinned by
Whether you like it or not most of the media content you consume relies on advertising to pay for
it. When you watch television, all free-to-air programmes, and many subscription satellite
programmes, expose you to advertising of one kind or another. On the Web, if you haven’t
installed an ad blocker, you will see lots of display advertising and, if you use Google search, you
will notice AdWords text advertising displayed against your search results. You may not enjoy it,
you may even loathe it, but the paid-for advertising you are induced to see is the price of free
content. Pick up a printed newspaper and you will find most pages carry advertisements. From
early on in their history (the 1700s), newspapers became more dependent on the revenue for
advertising than on the purchase price of the paper. Whichever way you consider it – advertising
and the media are interwoven with an inseparable bond. This connection is so strong that it has
become part of our culture. Indeed this relationship is so important that much time and money is
spent on research by the various media trying to prove how important they are to advertisers.
“Pick me!” each media category shouts – “the right people spend more time with me and will be
receptive to your advertisements…” Unfortunately, there are always disagreements when research
is done to back this up, as at best all it can provide is a broad brush view of media trends. It is
rarely able to provide reliably precise measurements. Nevertheless the interested parties from
each area of media argue its case vociferously using exact numbers. Oodles of advertising money
is at stake.
For some years I've been interested in how the current habit of media multi-tasking makes a
complete nonsense of any chance of providing precise measurements of individual media
consumption. So when I came across a recent U.S. study by eMarketer, I was interested in the
research approach the company had taken. Rather than produce its own data, eMarketer used a
method frequently used in the pharmaceutical and medical industries, namely “a meta-study.”
Simply put, this is a study of many other studies. In this case, eMarketer examined data from 40
different research institutions and tried to analyse and calculate a better result from all the
different methodologies that had been used. To produce this PowerPoint chart, I've picked out
from the eMarketer data what I feel are the two most significant trends. Remember as you read
the rest of this article that only broad changes in behaviour should be interpreted, so don't focus
too much on specific figures. But I will make two general observations.
My first observation has to be that the total time spent in consuming professional media has risen
approximately 10% in the last three years. In 2010 the average American spent 10 hours 46
minutes per day consuming media. Now, in 2013, that has risen to 12 hours and 5 minutes. If you
reckon these figures must be too high, think about it: they include multi-tasking. When a tablet
device is used whilst watching TV, both are counted, so that one hour of TV and simultaneous tablet
use is counted as two hours of total media consumption. Of course there is much academic
research that demonstrates that the human brain cannot successfully do two things at once. As the
day only has 24 hours, and we need to sleep, we can only fit in so much media consumption.
Perhaps that is why this growth in media consumption coincides with a steep rise in multi-tasking
and a decline in some media choices. Never before in the course of human existence have we
multi-tasked to such an extent, and yet I feel that this tendency is still in its infancy.
There is no question about the fact that living in a digital environment is dividing and distracting
our attention, and I find this worrisome. If you don't consider this to be important, I would suggest
reading some of the books by Sherry Turkle who has spent the better part of her research life
investigating the effects of computing devices on the human condition. I'm sure that in the future,
historians looking back on the 21st Century, will see that multi-tasking in a digital environment
became a significant factor affecting much of human conduct. I believe that humans will be forced
to cope with multitasking by radically adjusting their behaviour, and not all of them will do this
successfully. Already I see a clear divide between people who control their digital environment and
people who are controlled by it. We are now only a couple of years away from many devices,
including our cars, becoming connected and controlled via the Internet. The opportunities for
digital distraction are going to develop exponentially as we succumb to the “Internet of Things.”
As the chart shows, last year was a significant landmark as the total time Americans spent with
digital media exceeded the amount of time spent watching TV. Whichever way you look at this
data, the average American's lifestyle is defined by their media consumption. Perhaps, as Marshall
McLuhan observed, we really should view the world as show business. As Neil Postman said in
1985 in his eponymous book about TV, we are literally “amusing ourselves to death.” Were
Postman alive today, one wonders what he would think about the fact that while our TV
consumption is approximately the same it is being overtaken by the amount of time we spend in
Cyberspace? I reckon Postman would be horrified and he’d be pointing out the psychological
dangers of this extraordinary level of immersion into a multi-tasking world, where no one truly
concentrates on what they are doing at any given moment. Postman had already anticipated many
of the problems that a digital existence would create. Intelligent focus and concentration is
becoming a rare skill, especially among the young, although it is a vital part of achieving anything
worthwhile with the satisfaction that that brings to humanity.
My second observation is about the decline of printed newspapers. In digital form newspaper
content has never been more popular. Unfortunately digital advertising doesn't produce anything
like the money that advertising does in a printed newspaper. Roughly speaking digital ads produce
ten times less money and, as fewer people read printed newspapers, that previously major revenue
stream reduces to a trickle. I wrote about this subject in the middle of last year. In 2010 the
average American spent 30 minutes per day with a printed newspaper, by 2013 that had declined
to 18 minutes per day. That is just shy of a 50% fall in the last three years. If you own a tablet
device like an iPad or Nexus 7 it becomes obvious that there is very little reason to buy a printed
newspaper. More news than you can possibly consume is available via your tablet device in a
constant real-time stream. Some of the multi-tasking that happens whilst ostensibly watching TV is
concerned with viewing this continual digital flood of news and information using tablet devices.
Multi-tasking is going to increase as all the major manufacturers release a host of new, lower-
priced, tablets in time for the Xmas present-buying season.
Notice on the chart how online desktop usage has fallen as the time spent on smartphones and
tablets connected to the Internet has risen. Whether they like it or not, the owners of newspaper
brands will be forced to build their future revenue from the scraps of money they can get
developing apps for tablet devices. Regrettably, as this article using large amounts of data reveals,
the amount of money people will pay for media is shrinking each year. In fact 90% of apps are now
free - using advertising to support their production of course. Americans have just entered a new
era in newspaper ownership as Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has bought the Washington
Post. I'm sure Bezos, although his purchase is personal, will include some sort of Washington Post
app for Amazon's Kindle devices as a bundle deal with other Amazon services. Bezos will be only
too aware that advertising revenue on tablets can produce comparatively tiny amounts of money.
Then again he has invested much time and treasure in developing electronic paper, and he may
well have a future product in mind that will revolutionise what a printed newspaper can be.
Is it a coincidence that Amazon also bought Liquavista, a Dutch “electrowetting” display company
from Samsung earlier this year? Watch Dan Simmons from the BBC's Click program playing with an
early prototype display back in 2010 to see the potential uses for this technology for newspapers.
Although not yet capable of the high resolution displays that Samsung can now produce,
electrowetting technology makes the trade-off between having a screen with very high resolution or
a decent battery life less important. The company has produced a much greater battery life while
the Liquavista display performs very well in bright sunlight, in full colour and with video. Good
enough for the Kindle newspaper platform of the future? But whatever Bezos bundles with
Amazon’s Kindle newspaper platform you can bet your bottom dollar that advertising will play a
part. After all Amazon is developing its own behavioural advertising platform and Bezos considers
that printed newspapers will become a luxury item in much the way horses have become.
...with analysis & insight...