Channel surfing got weird.
There was this episode of All-Star Celebrity Apprentice this season that revolved around each team’s ability to create a television ad for the consumer electronics company, LG. It wasn’t really about a particular model of television or kitchen appliance. It wasn’t about some new-fangled technology that would allow their washing machines to clean your clothes through some kind of micro-parcel technology. It was all about how connected these devices have now become. The television, the smartphone, the washer and dryer and yes, even the refrigerator are now "smart." Smart in a connected sense. Smart in not just being connected to the Internet, but in how each device now has a touchscreen that offers up all kinds of information – from operating data to content (like recipes based on what’s inside the fridge). Screens are everywhere. Screens are connected. Screens are mobile. Screens are increasingly getting cheaper and more ubiquitous.
Welcome to the one screen world.
Not too long ago, I was asked to give a presentation on the state of digital media and how well brands are intersecting the worlds of marketing and technology. Prior to my closing keynote presentation, there was a panel discussion about the state of media. One senior media executive was discussing the power of a four screen world. I thought that he had made a mistake. I was familiar with the concept of three screens (television, computer and mobile), but four screens was something new. Eventually, he unveiled that the fourth screen was the tablet. It’s still somewhat shocking to think that the iPad was first introduced on April 3rd, 2010, and we now live in a world where more iPads are being sold than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC line (and this has been a constantly growing trend since 2012). In fact, all of this shores up to the notion that it’s not about three screens or four screens. It’s about one screen: whichever screen is in front of me. In a world where screens are connected and everywhere, the notion of even counting them seems arbitrary, at best. Don’t believe me, speak to somebody who is currently sporting Google glass.
The true tale of a nineteen year old.
My niece is nineteen years old. When she was sixteen years old, she would come home school, take out her laptop, plop down on the couch, lift the computer lid, turn on the TV, plug in her earbuds, so that she could listen to music on her iPod, and her BlackBerry was always within reach. From afar it looked like she was running NORAD. Fast-forward a mere three years, and now she comes home from school, takes out her iPad… and that’s it. All of that core content is now readily available on the one screen (in one way, shape or form). From content (in text, images, audio and video) to communications (chatting with friends on Skype or via Google Hangouts)… it’s all readily available on this one device that rules them all. Yes, we are seeing a massive uptick in consumers who are using companion devices (meaning, they are watching TV but have their smartphones nearby), and while the industry does refer to it as a companion device, the truth is that you’re not watching the television with one eyeball and your iPhone with the other. The only screen that still matters, is the screen that is in front of you.
It’s bigger than you think.
While most people are busy paying attention to the fact that Yahoo just bought Tumblr for over one billion dollars, they’re forgetting something profound about the last acquisition of chaotic proportions (when Facebook bought Instagram for close to one billion dollars as well). In the Newsweek article, Instagram Will Take Facebook Into the Mobile Age (April 16th, 2012), journalist Dan Lyons so appropriately wrote: "The Internet was all about websites. Then came the iPhone and Android, and today the only reason anyone creates a website is to promote a cool new mobile app." And here we are, today, with over a billion smartphones in the world and they are outnumbering the PCs. Within the next decade, virtually all mobile phones will be smartphone, meaning 6 billion people will be constantly connected. And, as if the exponential growth of the one screen world is not scary enough, we currently live in a world where more individuals have a mobile subscription than access to electricity or safe drinking water (more on that here: Putting Global Mobile In Context).
So, how are the brands stacking up?
Not so well, thanks for asking. According to a recent survey by Adobe, 45% of marketers still don’t have a mobile presence, and this is happening at the exact same time that eMarketer is reporting that 15% of online retail sales will take place this year via a mobile device (sales will reach nearly $39 billion in 2013, which is up over 56% from 2012). If ever there was a time to embrace the notion of the one screen world, this would be it. Businesses are still splitting hairs of what is the Web, what is the smartphone, what is the tablet and what is TV in a world where consumers are shoring these screens up into one. They have a constant and consistent desire to simply have the content they want on the device they want, when they want it. Sadly, most marketers are thinking about how they are going to advertise on a mobile screen, instead of hunkering down and figuring out what the customer’s new expectations are when everything from their washer and dryer to their television and smartphone are hyper-connected to one another. Instead of curling up into a ball or sticking the proverbial head in the sand, what we’re truly seeing in this day and age is a massive global opportunity – unlike anything in business that we have seen before – to take the mobile lead. By the looks and sounds of the data and the exponential growth in consumer demands for these devices and the content on them, the one screen world is poised to make websites, social media and e-commerce combined look like a joke in comparison.
Are you ready? Is your brand ready?
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: