Trends in media consumption (Stefana Broadbent at Pic Nic 2007)
Stefana Broadbent gave a very insightful talk at Pic Nic 2007 (called "Trends in Communication and Entertainment"), in a misconception-countered-by-data fashion that I liked. She and her colleagues at Swisscom Innovation built a "observatory" which aims at following behavioral trends regarding communications and digital practices (through looking at 250 households/800 persons each year). They basically collect tons of data (timelines, diaries, how people fill their days, look at ipod content, make lists, check internet usage with people. This is then turned in a classic social-sciences way (although more descriptive than explicative) into pattern descriptions. Some resulting patterns (sorry if I miss all the data that support these claims, like countries of origins):
- Writing communication preavails (over oral/mediated): people write more than they speak over the phone.
- Written channels are used as background to other activities (like working), mostly to keep contact with loved ones.
- People with digital video recorders do watch commercials, 40% of people with PVR or TiVO do not skip them.
- On-line video does not substitute TV: 33% indicated that they watched more TV, 13% decreased
- Concentrated viewing is short on TV (30 minutes) and even shorter on PC (5-7 minutes)
- Lots of activities in front of TV: talking, eating, reading... internet, playing video games (portable, mobile).
- Local radio are NOT dead, high level of consumptions. Less than 10% reports less time listening to local radio due to time spent on MP3 players.
- Newspapers are not dead, at least in their "free" form: +12% increase in the last 5 years. They're free and they're distributed at the consumption points.
Her message was then that there is no substitution, everything is added: more devices, more channels, more media and nothing is thrown out. What happens is that every media is moving in the background, becoming wallpaper: IM+email are ran in the background, Music IS the background, TV is being viewed in background, Daily newspapers are read in the background.
What I really enjoys in Stefana's presentation is that she does not only feed you with plenty of data indicating new trends; she also goes deeper by connecting them to higher level issues (in that case, cognitive psychology). What does "in the background" mean, in terms of psychological processes: it means that media consumption is less conscious and that less attention is provided. This is done through the creation of routines: automatization of procedure. We then develop "media routines": Radio channel: listen to during breakfast / News show before going to bed / webpage news skimmed through when arriving at work / call to mother on sunday / SMS to say I'm on my way.
The problem, as she described is that the whole industry is going against this "routine" trend ("Bye Bye routines") through VOD, HDD recorders, ipTV, personalized radio/TV, VoIP or podcasts. As a matter of fact, users can only multitask if they are not required to give ALL their attention: choosing kills routines and require attention, it moves attention to the foreground and means commitment, and being in control means being focused.