Have Tablets Become the First Screen?

It’s an interesting conceit: Have tablets taken over the living room and become the first screen while traditional large screens have become ‘companion devices’? It’s not such a strange idea. With my small focus group here at home, I’ve noticed that the living room TV is getting much less of a workout that it did just a year ago. While part of this may be due to its transformation into a nexus point for Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim, there’s a significant amount of video which is instead being viewed on smaller, more mobile devices such as iPads and iPods. The portability and the individual experience have had a significant impact on how content is being consumed. Add earphones and watch the peace increase. TV and Tablet The Quarterly Multi-Screen Usage Study from NPD DisplaySearchnotes put some numbers to my anecdotal evidence: “…85 per cent of tablet owners and 65 per cent of smartphone owners in 15 countries surveyed view online content on their mobile devices instead of on their TVs at least some of the time. Of the people who used mobile devices to view online content, most said that they like the ability to watch from anywhere and do not have to compete with others for control of the TV remote. “ Covering the TV of Tomorrow conference going on now in New York, The Verge offers some interesting insight into the question from speaker Dale Herigstad: The experience of television is moving off the primary screen…Viewers “are taking ownership with second screens.” For an industry built on advertising, changing viewer habits present both a threat and opportunity as people pay less attention to the TV but more attention to their tablets. With industry disruptors such as Aereo expanding nationwide, the idea that TV will no longer be a communal experience, but an individual one, doesn’t seem so far-fetched and certainly aided by the continued popularity of the tablet (whatever the OS may be). I touched on this in a previous blog post, (How Much Are Viewers Engaged in the Second Screen), but even just a month ago I hadn’t seen the forest for the trees. I was STILL considering the question from the other side, thinking of TVs as the first screen and the mobile device as the second. But what if the revolution in TV which the industry, the public and tech pundits has been expecting from Apple and Google is already well underway in the form of personal anytime/anywhere TV?

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, told The New York Times last week that the Emmy nominations solidified the idea that “television is television, no matter what pipe brings it to the screen.” He’s right. Television used to come over the air or through the coaxial cable. Now it seems to come from everywhere on all kinds of devices.

As noted by the NPD’s research, viewers like to enjoy content freed from the challenges of location or in-home competition. Companies like RLJ are looking ahead and adjusting their business models to accommodate with its existing Acorn TV as well as the OnCue service, debuting in 2014. Perhaps the revolution IS being televised…just on a smaller, mobile, more personal screen.   (This post first appeared on the Giant blog in July, 2013.)

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