The future of multi-screen culture

John C. Tanner
Telecom Asia

This month's cover story looks at five of the biggest trends, technologies and developments that we believe will influence the evolution of the mobile app as we know it. Due to the usual limitations of time and space, of course, it's not a comprehensive list. And one development that's worth expanding on is the concept of the multi-screen experience - i.e. the ability to access content regardless of what screen it's being accessed from (TV, smartphone, tablet, whatever). 

We do touch on that a little bit, via In-Stat's prediction that, five years from now, tablets will be the primary video device for users even inside the home, and that 60% of both smartphone and tablet users will use those devices to watch OTT video at home. That highlights an interesting shift in the concept of mobile video, which was originally imagined as an on-the-go service, but appears to be morphing into a redefinition of video consumption in the home. 
  
In-door consumption

We've already seen this in markets like South Korea, where mobile TV users watch a lot of their favorite dramas at home, and others use their mobile TV devices as a companion device to the living room screen. That's now happening in other markets as well, which is why Yoav Schreiber, senior analyst for digital media infrastructure at Current Analysis, recently observed that the biggest multi-screen video market opportunity is "heavily focused on delivering video applications and "TV experiences" for consumption on companion devices in the home", including smartphones, PCs, and tablets.

There are naturally challenges to achieving that, particularly in terms of monetization (i.e. how do you package that, and how do you accommodate advertisers?), data caps (because video will eat those up faster than you can say "Don't touch that dial") and content protection (oh, you know).
 

But the point is that more and more customers are already accustomed to interacting with multiple screens. And that's going to impact how players across the value chain approach new content services (which is one reason cloud-based content is generating so much buzz at the moment).  

Another fascinating aspect that's worth highlighting is the emergence of the "fifth screen". 

Digital signage has been touted for a while now as both another potential revenue stream for operators (think: M2M) and a new way for advertisers to interact with consumers at specific locations via technologies like Bluetooth, QR codes, augmented reality or even SMS.

But look at digital signage within the cultural context of the multi-screen paradigm, and it becomes something more than an animated billboard or a public TV panel. 

Jan Chipchase - an executive creative director of global insights at frog design, and creator of the FuturePerfect blog - has pointed to Seoul as an experiment in this regard, pondering in a recent article how people's perceptions and behaviors will shift as dynamic, interactive displays become the norm. 

For example, local discount store retail chain Home Plus launched a  "virtual" supermarket - a screen in a subway station that displays life-sized grocery items that customers can purchase online by snapping the QR code of each item. Home Plus says its online sales have gone up 130% since it started trialing the store.

Because the service involves logging and tracking consumer purchasing data, Chipchase highlights the privacy implications of this kind of scenario in which "Screens will read us; we will not only read them". That's worth emphasizing within the larger discussion of collecting and securing consumer data. The fact that digital signage servers have been demonstrated to be as hackable as (say) Sony PlayStation network only highlights the point.

But the broader point is that interactive digital signage is going to happen anyway -indeed, it's happening already, from simple things like posting text messages and Tweets to Jumbotron screens to online shopping and AR apps that transform displays into interactive playgrounds. As the technology and consumer behaviors evolve, there's a fascinating opportunity here to incorporate the fifth screen into coming cultural norm of the multi-screen experience.

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