Screen Time

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A couple of weeks ago, I had a discussion with my oldest son about his Nintendo DS, Harry Potter, Channel 160 (PBS Kids show) and some other stuff. Slowly, but at a steady pace, the time he was spending looking and interacting with those screens had increased over the past few months. Up until then, we'd been using a system where he would be allowed to play his video games and watch certain shows, provided he did it responsibly and instantaneously turned them off when asked. Otherwise, we'd have to introduce what some of you might know as "screen time."

Fast forward to last night...

I got in a taxi with a couple of guys from work and within two seconds, someone had turned off the screen in the back of the cab. Being fairly new to New York, that screen is still kind of a novelty to me. So I tend to keep watching it, despite the fact that what's on the screen is not that great (and also makes me car sick). It made me think about the discussion I had with my son and how much "screen time" do I have?

Think about it...

Screens are popping up everywhere: in cabs, billboards, supermarkets, bus stops, elevators, toilets(?!), refrigerators, etc. And if you talk to people about the screens in the back of cabs, you'll get a really clear picture of why no one's watching. Quite simply, the content sucks.

But why is that?

First, it seems the people that put them there did it primarily to push out information or as another way to display advertising. They didn't give any thought to figuring out what people might want to see or do when riding in a cab. They didn't think of the CONTEXT.

Second, they looked at that screen as just another screen. Simply as a way to get more REACH.

But when you get into a cab, you're looking for something to help kill make the ride go faster. Which is why most people take out their smart phones. Because there they have CONTENT they can choose themselves. Content that is something useful for work or for your own personal entertainment. Content that gives something back. And this interaction leaves you in a new state. You have been moved mentally (or, if you're in the cab...physically).

The CONTENT on the screen in the back of a cab never seems to take into account the CONTEXT, and will, therefore, never affect the REACH.

It's that simple and fundamental, actually.

For me, this begs the question of how best to approach the fact that we have all these screens around us. Should we be considering the location of the screen, what it's being used for, whether there is sound as well as sight, and whether people are even interested in seeing them? Do we need to be thinking about the CONTEXT?

You bet.

Because it's not until you add a layer of CONTEXT that you can even decide what the CONTENT should be.

Just writing this post, I've already come up with a couple of cool ideas for those taxi TVs. Next up are refrigerator screens, toilets and talking TVs at the checkout aisle.

Maybe I'll even ask Betty White for some help.

Mathias Appelblad is ECD, Director of Innovation, BBDO New York

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