As Olympic Games junkies salivate at the prospect of parking themselves in front of their big flat-screened televisions for the next couple of weeks, a new dawn is already rewriting how they consume televised content.
Gone are the days of passively absorbing as much top-tier, high-definition coverage as their eyeballs can handle while munching endless bowls of nachos and dip. Increasingly, they're just as likely to be sitting up on the couch, balancing laptops, tablets and smartphones on their laps as they look for ever more sophisticated ways to experience the event. As events are in progress, for example, apps recently released by games organizers, broadcasters and sponsors — such as the Official London Join In and Results 2012 apps, the CTV Olympics App or the Coca-Cola My Beat Maker app — allow them to look up athletes' bios, learn more about their specific events, explore the venues, share the experience via social media, watch live or archived video or even create and upload their own Olympic-themed tune.
Benefits extend beyond the couch
The transition from single-screen television viewing to a more immersive form of multiscreen consumption and interaction isn't just a game changer for viewers. While the multiplatform flexibility allows consumers to customize and share the experience to an unprecedented degree, it opens up an entirely new range of possibilities for businesses that in previous Olympics might have simply paid for television spots and hoped for the best. Beyond the Olympics, it points to an entirely new way of marketing to an audience that's already looking for more.
Those possibilities begin with more engaged viewers. A COG Research/Thinkbox survey released in May shows viewers who watch TV on two or more screens at the same time are more likely to hang in for the ads. The research shows 81% of multiscreen viewers continued to watch during advertising breaks compared to 72% of single-screen viewers. Multi-screen viewers also like to share their thoughts on content and ads online, with close to a third of them using texting, social media or other online messaging services to spread the word — a number that rises to 54% for 16-to-24-year-olds.
An Ecoconsultancy report, produced on behalf of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, illustrates just how deeply multi-screen viewing has already penetrated the average living room. Over 65% of respondents reported watching television with their tablets at the ready, and when they flipped all their screens on, they tended to watch for longer periods of time: 64% of multi-screeners watched for more than 15 minutes, compared with 47% for single-screen viewers.
Not driven to distraction
While concerns over distraction — the more screens in front of a viewer, the more likely the viewer is to wander between content and not retain advertising-borne messages — continue to dog multi-screen advocates, the survey reports 42% of two-screen viewers were able to recall between one and three advertisers. This rose to 53% with four-screen (TV, PC, tablet, and smartphone) viewers. Younger multi-screen viewers were even sharper, with 61% being able to remember at least one advertiser.
Online content that complements the main broadcast — or in some cases replaces it when the viewer is on the go — holds a number of key advantages for advertisers, but only if they choose to capitalize on the transition. Key starting points include:
- Ensuring the existing website is updated to be mobile-enabled. So-called responsive programming can allow a single website to adapt based on the kind of device being used. Growing use of HTML5-compliant development techniques is helping companies more easily build mobile sites, as well.
- Creating apps that leverage conventional broadcast and advertising content on smartphones and tablets, encouraging consumers to keep their brand front and centre as they watch the main show.
- Learning to use analytics tools to capture usage data from mobile websites, apps and social media streams. This information validates the business case for investing in multi-screen-aware content and delivery, and gives advertisers a powerful lens into consumer behaviour.
- Review conventional broadcast production processes to incorporate multi-screen cues and related activities directly into advertising content. Ads that challenge viewers to tweet their contest entries can potentially drive engagement more effectively than those without similar calls to action.
With the majority of viewers now picking up their mobile devices while watching television, the transition is already well underway. Advertisers and other businesses that ignore the transition risk losing audience attention to competitors with more focused multi-screen strategies. The Olympics may provide a global stage for some best practices in the space, but the race for multi-screen eyeballs in the living room will continue long after the flame is extinguished in London.
Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own. firstname.lastname@example.org