Remember Three-Screen Marketing Plans? So 2007. Time to Get Ready For Six Screens

A Host of New Devices Are Making the Now Traditional TV, PC and Mobile Paradigm Obsolete

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Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro
"The Sixth Screen." Sounds like something from a sci-fi flick with Bruce Willis, doesn't it? But actually, no; this is as real as it gets and we are quickly moving from three screens to six screens fast and furious.

To see what's coming, we need a quick primer on what the multiscreen concept is all about.

As marketers, we all understand the need to translate our brand message across the three screens -- PC, TV and mobile. Truth be told, that is easier said than done. The speed of content being served virtually simultaneously among three screens is presenting some pretty tough challenges for brands. Just mobile, for instance, is moving so rapidly to becoming our computing platform, which in and of itself complicates life for a brand. This stuff is so complex, in fact, specialty innovative mobile marketing technology companies have risen as the technological bridge to help companies move through this evolution. Augme is one example with its AD LIFE platform that enables "seamless integration of goods and services within consumer life experiences ..." In other words, they use mobile technology to match the marketing message to the real-time life moment of its users. This type of sophisticated marketing still requires a strong stomach on the part of marketers to execute.

While it's clear most brands are not all that comfy with the notion of three screens today, the bad news is that it's about to blow wide open to six screens. Why? Because "Judy Consumer" is demanding more and more control in her increasingly "pull" digital world. She wants to efficiently multitask; quickly moving from machine or hardware to consume content or communicate. And she is a quick learner. She will want content–centric entertainment, collaboration and communications systems that deliver seamlessly through her day within her new trust network -- her digital communities.

That's where we are going and here's my take on how we get there.

The screens of today

    Screen 1: The TV

    Recent Nielsen data shows that consumers are choosing to add elements to their media experience, rather than replacing them. Jim O' Hara, president, Media Product Leadership, The Nielsen Company, said that "although we have seen the computer and mobile phone screens taking on a significant role, their emergence has not been at the cost of TV viewership."

    People like TV as a device to view content and that is not going away. What's changing is who gets to decide what content comes through the device. More and more Judy Consumer will decide what's piped through her TV -- but we'll get to that in a bit.

    Screen 2: The PC

    The PC as the device to deliver information, communications and content was a hit almost from the time it landed, especially once the killer "app" for PC -- the internet -- came on the scene. Harris Interactive has been measuring how much time people spend online for quite some time now and it's no surprise to hear that time spent online has doubled in the past eight years; from seven hours/ week in 2000 to 14 hours/ week by 2008. Once we could connect to other people and information, we never looked back.

    And how do we spend our increased time online? In our social networks, of course. According to Nielsen, a whopping 22.7% of our time is spent in our social networks while the next closest activity, online games, clocks in at 10.2%. The PC and internet were a magic connector and once we connected -- our appetites were whetted for even greater content consumption and connectivity.

This is where our next screen comes in...

    Screen 3: Mobile

    Mobile is now primarily a communications device but it is quickly and simultaneously evolving as an access/interactive/ content-consumption device. The new depth of access and interactivity allows us to create an innovative, "interactive" bar scanning marketing programs to deliver location-based consumer offers. Mobile video content consumption is also clearly on the rise. Seven in 10 adult internet users (69%) have used the internet to watch or download video, according to Pew Institute -- a 70% increase since last year. Plus, now nearly half of all U.S. adults who use a laptop have WiFi.

    Our mobile communications devices are the bedrock of our digital lives and it is fast evolving to becoming our digital Swiss army knife.

    That takes care of the three screens of today and they are largely about access to enable connectivity which leads us to ...

The screens that are coming

The next three screens let us imagine how much is possible when we break down the barriers between today's TV, internet and mobile phone platforms and reorient these technologies toward a socially connected, digital citizen called "Judy Consumer."

Once we do that, we can begin to solidify how this evolution may take shape.

    Screen 4: Mobile Computing

    The fourth screen is when consumers take the next big leap from mobile communications (screen three) to mobile computing via 4G networking. We are on the road to this -- but industry experts believe it is still a few years away because of the delicate dance required between the devices and the networks needed to keep everything synchronized. Here's a helpful explanation of the "real definition" of 4G courtesy of Ahuva Zucker, in a piece entitled; 4G -- It's all about semantics:

    4G is the 4th generation of cellular wireless standards. It refers to speed, usually. You should probably be aware that the labeling of anything 4G is a misnomer. There is no 4G available to the public yet. The only two technologies capable of providing 4G services are WiMAX and LTE. But, right now ... neither of them is even equipped to the ITU's standardization of 4G.

    ITU's classification of 4G is speed. Enhanced peak data rates must be 100 Mbps for mobile users and 1 Gbps for stationary reception, or ...a lot faster than what you have now, which is something more like 1 Mbps for mobile use if you're lucky. It doesn't take any math skills to figure out that the requirements for 4G are impressive.

    I rely on this quite detailed explanation to make one simple point – real 4G is not here yet – but it is coming and fast.

    Screen 5: Location Aware Digital TV

    The rapidly approaching fifth screen is the mobile digital television screen, similar only in size to the phone or wireless device. In fact, the fifth screen is itself a revolution because the data rates are so much higher than 3G/4G, due to the dedicated digital television bandwidth.

    The screens for this level will be so advanced that it will make the current iPad look about as sexy as the first generation "brick" cellphones are to us now. This communications device will be coupled with an HD-powered screen; integrating community-communications with entertainment and soon full-blown interactivity.

    Which leads us to the final screen ...

    Screen 6: Infinite "pull" screen of convergence

    If screens one through five, though different in size and shape are all similar in that they focus on delivery of content, communication and applications, then this screen is the final step, because here is where technology can truly put the consumer at the center of the experience. At this point, the current nascent "pull" dynamic where Judy Consumer pulls what she wants when she wants, will have reached maturity. To "pull" off this level of convergence (pun intended), we will have sophisticated networks that allow communications and entertainment to be accessed over one integrated internet-protocol (IP) and wireless platform. This screen will not just deliver content or connections, but it will be intelligent to create custom information, advertisements, applications with specialized services as individual as the user.

    In this sixth screen world, Judy Consumer is finally able to mold her digital world to encompass real-time convergence of her trusted social networks, trusted content and trusted connections. This is when we will live in a perfect "opt-in" world where Judy Consumer will pull the "trusted" ads she wants to see and when she wants to see them -- sensitive to her physical locations. It will allow her friends to be apart of her sports experience at the stadium even though they are not there with her. She can go "virtual shopping" with far-flung fashionista experts who can make suggestions as she tries on different dresses even though none of them are actually in any physical store. And, of course, she will be able to easily and remotely check in on family members ensuring their health and safety.

That's how I see our evolution of the six screens. "But hey, Judy," some may protest, "aren't you just slicing and dicing content delivery across different platforms or cloud infrastructures? It's not really six screens at all." In some ways, that's a fair point as one could easily come up with an entirely different "screen set" roadmap.

Yet what shapes my thinking on this subject is that this structure maps back to the dramatic speed of Judy Consumer's evolution from the current "push" model of first three screens to the "pull" business model that is characterized by the last three screens. The propellant for this evolution is her increasingly sophisticated desire to move to a trusted "many:many" interactions paradigm, freeing her to connect with content, communities and people how and when she wants.

I concede that I may be out on a limb on this one, but hey, it's a helluva unobstructed view from here.

Judy Shapiro is chief brand strategist at CloudLinux and has held senior marketing positions at Paltalk, Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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