When Apple released the iPad about two and half years ago, many industry pundits scoffed at the product, not sure how it would fit among their customers' established usage of phones and laptops. The iPad was a success, however, and over 100 million units have been sold since its introduction. This has led to competitors producing a variety of competing products with similar functionality. This device can be used in a variety of different contexts, but one popular one is while watching TV. A study from the media research group Nielsen found that 88% of tablet owners use their device while watching TV. This has the potential to impact both programming and advertising by threatening the traditional way that consumers watch TV. It also has created an unprecedented opportunity for advertisers and producers to innovate and connect with consumers on a whole new dynamic, interactive level.
One of the impacts that tablet usage during TV viewing is causing is an inattention to commercials. When a commercial comes on, the consumer can simply switch to his tablet and start browsing the web or checking email. A tablet is much handier than a laptop because it is more suited to quick tasks like these, it is more portable, and the battery life is longer. This makes commercials less effective because the TV viewer's attention is elsewhere.
There is much innovation that can combine the power of the big television screen with the interactive smaller screen of the tablet. DirectTV already offers an iOS iPad app that allows users to get more information about what they're watching as well as to more easily select a new program to watch from on-demand content or channels. Nintendo's newly released video game console the Wii U has a feature entitled TVii. The Wii U comes with a controller that has a large screen on it, essentially like a tablet. The TVii program runs on this controller tablet and allows the user to select a program to watch from online streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video or their cable network. The program is then shown on the big screen TV. Users can also look up more information about a program as well as comment on the programs they are watching on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Microsoft is also getting into the ring with their SmartGlass application. This allows a user to use a tablet to enhance games they play or content they watch on the Microsoft Xbox 360 video game console.
So what does this increased interactivity mean for advertisers or producers? For advertisers it means that they can produce interactive advertisements. A car company could produce a commercial that not only plays on the TV but also sends a 3D, rotatable model of the car to the tablet. The consumer can use his finger to drag and rotate the car around and get a better sense of it. It can provide a link to the company's website so the consumer can get more information about it. The consumer could even choose to share the ad on Facebook or like the company's page. This still does not prevent the consumer from switching to a different app on their tablet when commercials come on but if they find the interactive features engaging, they may be less likely to do so. A producer could use this increased interactivity to make their content more engaging as well. The application could display additional information about the show such as a map of where the filming took place, behind the scenes information, or character information. It could give fans the ability to communicate with each other and discuss the show or share fan-created content. One of the things I find useful about the online streaming service Hulu is to read comments from other users about what they thought of the episode. Just as it helps to discuss a book in English class with other classmates, a show gains additional value when other users' thoughts are shared. The ability to connect with social networks helps producers to take advantage of free, word-of-mouth advertising. If a viewer likes a particular show and shares it on Facebook, maybe his or her friends will also start watching. Facebook currently has Spotify integration so that when users are listening to streaming music with Spotify it updates their profile with the name of the song to which they are listening. This could be easily extended with TV viewing, updating the user's profile with the current program they are watching.
It is important for both advertisers and producers to be aware of consumers' trends in tablet usage during TV viewing. By offering additional value that takes advantage of the second screen and internet-connectedness found in a tablet, producers and advertisers can make their content more engaging. It remains to be seen if consumers will adapt such innovation, however, or simply ignore it, preferring instead to keep TV viewing to a familiar mindless, passive experience.