The bad news for print is familiar by now. The amount of time U.S. adults spend with ink and dead-tree media has shrunk to 24 minutes a day, according to the latest data from eMarketer. But analog media is generally about to be eclipsed by digital channels in dominating our media consumption.
The amount of time we spend with media of all kinds has increased to 12 hours a day, nearly six of which is spent accessing digital screens. This is no small thing. Media now constitute a persistent, largely real-time and interactive environment that saturates our existence.
Consider how distant that circumstance is from media as we understood it throughout the 20th Century—media as discreet moments (drive-time radio, primetime TV, weekend movie night, morning newspaper)—places set apart from living itself.
The formats we created in the last century emerged from and shaped these styles of media consumption. In the real-time, always-there, interactive media environment, the infinite feed—specifically the social feed and the mobile alert—are the earliest formats serving this new style of consumption.
I think it is safe to say, however, that we don’t know what formats ultimately will characterize this next great stage, in which media are woven inextricably into the environment. We know for sure those formats will be mobile, since eMarketer also showed that we spend 197 minutes a day consulting mobile screens.
Our guess is that the important next formats will better leverage the unique qualities of mobile, especially the intersection of location and behavior. Feeds and alerts currently are dumb, poorly filtered and not very well woven into everyday life. Geolocation and predictive AI will likely provide the necessary filter to help push contextually relevant, highly personalized media to the point of need or want. Augmented reality (especially as it gets baked into operating systems) has the potential to make the digital-to-analog connection as much a reflex as taking a phone cam shot. And, of course, voice represents the most promising post-screen interface of them all.
We do not know precisely what reliable forms a fully present media environment will take. But the trajectory suggests that the fundamental changes in our media-consumption habits will require radically new thinking about what and how media does what it does in our everyday lives. A user’s real-time location, situation, personal behavior will be the triggers for serving the right content. At the same time, the channels for this media will be narrower, more personalized, and likely under the control of a handful of gatekeepers.
The broad implications are twofold. First, media needs to rethink itself as a persistent companion or as a service that is relevant to specific times and places in someone’s daily life. Second, distribution will require high level partnerships with major players to ensure big media brands get prominence on post-search/post-social channels.