The latest consumer trends in device usage

Taking a look around us, it is easy to come to the conclusion that we are increasingly connected and engaged in using our mobile devices. Our peers all have smartphones and tablets. Many of us have multiple such devices, and we frequently engage with them wherever we are. We also look at our own kids and younger co-workers as a barometer of change. And they certainly spend much more time socializing and consuming video through their devices. So it's easy to assume that the digital world is supplanting traditional media for the world in general.

These devices do indeed seem to be altering our lives, but along the way, our preoccupation with these gadgets has begun to get in the way of understanding their broader impact on our society. And in our roles as media, marketing, and advertising executives, such bias can undermine the effectiveness of our decision making. Our professional and media focus on how these devices are changing our personal lives, reinforced by an ongoing flow of pseudo research stats from vendor sponsored surveys, makes it easy to lose sight of the big picture. Yes, we may get our news online, binge watch our favorite shows from Netflix, and catch up on the most recent episode on our tablet. But is that what the majority of Americans actually do?

Understanding that big picture around the media and marketing impact of new devices requires us to take a closer look at objective, behavioral, and longitudinal research data. When it comes to research on media and marketing usage of devices, the Nielsen Cross-Platform report serves as a reliable resource due to its representative sampling of U.S. TV households and behavioral focus on time spent with devices. Below are some relevant, but perhaps startling, stats from the latest Nielsen Cross-Platform report that highlight the relative penetration and usage of devices:

  • Seventy-four percent  of U.S. TV households use the internet through a computer but related time doing so amounts to less than 20 percent as much as traditional TV viewing.
  • Sixty percent of U.S. TV households use the internet to stream online video but related time doing so amounts to less than 2 percent as much as traditional TV viewing.
  • The top quintile (20 percent) of U.S. TV households that stream video watch 14 times more online video than all U.S. TV households, but they still watch nine times more traditional TV.
  • Eighty-four percent of U.S. TV households use a mobile phone, and roughly 50 percent of these have smartphones.
  • Average monthly time spent on social activities on mobile phones is 150 percent larger than on tablets.
  • Average time spent watching video on tablets is roughly 50 percent larger than on mobile phones.
  • Time on social activities with mobile phones/tablets is roughly 9 percent that of traditional TV viewing.
  • Time watching video on mobile phones/tablets is roughly 2 percent that of traditional TV viewing.

Are you surprised by these numbers? If so, you likely suffer from cohort blindness, and you should recognize its potentially debilitating impact on effective decision making. The fact is, it's easy to assume that everyone consumes media the way we do or the way that consumption trends suggest. Confirmation bias leads us to cherry pick the most alarming headlines to support our assumptions. The best known cure is to seek broader perspectives and sound research data to help you manage your personal bias -- and to understand where TV viewing is still firmly implanted in the day in the life of the average household. If we are to understand consumer behavior as it relates to devices and screens, and build effective marketing and media mixes, the full picture is essential.

Next time you find yourself making decisions based on your own habits, otherwise known as the "focus group of one," take time to reflect on whether such behaviors are typical of the target population for your communications. At minimum, look at where time spent on other devices and screens sit relative to the persistent TV standard for most people.

Claudio Marcus is EVP of marketing and research at Visible World.

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