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February 2011

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Will the iPad Kill Prime Time TV?

by Glen Emerson Morris
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A study from Web service ReadItLater indicates iPad owners are increasingly using their iPads to read content during prime time that they found earlier that day with their desktop computer. According to the study, the iPad is used rarely by consumers any time other than prime time.

If correct, it means nearly all of the iPad's market share of the consumers' daily attention will come at the expense of the prime TV market. Given the source of data for the study, the report could well be correct.

ReadItLater provides a Web based bookmarking service that let's people bookmark content found on one computer for reading later, usually on other devices (like an iPad or iPhone). Based on 100,000,000 bookmarks, their study is probably the best projection of what consumer reading behavior will be like after tablets like the iPad become widely used. Many of the ReadItLater users were using both iPhone and iPads to read content with in addition to their desktop computer. Though most people don't own all three devices now, it's only a matter of time before they do.

In all cases a significant amount of content found during the day was timeshifted to be read later that day, primarily between 6PM and 10PM. Different use patterns for the three devices emerged.
  • Reading on desktop computers fell off towards the afternoon, even though the number of new bookmarks added remained constant.
  • Reading on the iPhone had four major use spikes; 6AM breakfast, 9AM morning commute, 5PM-6PM evening commute, and 8PM-10PM prime time.
  • Reading on the iPad only had one major use spike, and that was between 8PM and 10PM.
Until now the iPad has been seen primarily as a threat to newspapers and magazines, and its effect on TV thought likely to be marginal at best. That's probably not going to be the case.

If the ReadItLater study is correct, over the next few years it will become common for people to curl up in their favorite chair or couch at the end of the day and spend an hour or two reading the day' s new content on their iPad. Whether this will be instead of, or in addition to, watching prime time TV, is not clear. However, even of it's just in addition to watching TV, it will mean large numbers of the people will be paying far less attention to TV commercials than they used to.

Unfortunately for advertisers, it is quite possible that iPad use will be instead of watching prime time TV, not in addition to. Part of the problem is that quite a bit of video content is being developed for the iPad, and some of it's actually pretty good.

For example, Apple has recently added a college course content section of the iTunes store called iTunes U. This section contains dozens of college lectures recorded at top universities including Stanford and Yale. The relatively small screen of the iPad is adequate to deliver lectures since most of the content is “talking heads” and there'd be no advantage to seeing the lectures on a larger display. Many lectures are available in both audio and video format downloads and contain 24 individual lectures averaging over 70 minutes each, for a combined total length of approximately 28 hours per course. Considering 28 hours is a significant percentage of the total time a person spends watching prime time TV per week, if these courses take off in popularity it will noticeably affect the prime time market audience.

The emergence of the iPad as a major consumer of people's prime time attention may prove to be the final nail in prime time TV's proverbial coffin. We've gotten to the point where we have to ask if prime time TV is even possible. Now that nearly any TV show can be watched at any time, what's the real importance of prime time schedules? Does it really matter “when” people watch something, as long as “enough” people watch something to make advertising on it worthwhile?

In retrospect, prime time was part of a broadcasting model based on the assumption that there were three commercial channels and no home video recording, and the world has changed a lot since that was true. In the 1950's PTA meetings were never booked on the same nights as hit TV shows. These days, no one adjusts their personal schedules to fit TV schedules. With video recording, no one needs to.

Losing the prime time TV audience to the Internet won't be a major loss for advertisers. Prime time television had certain limitations that Internet advertising isn't subject to. Broadcast television isn't interactive, and there's no way a television advertiser can offer the kind of advertising customization possible with Internet based content.

In trading their TV for an iPad, consumers have opened up a number of new ways for advertisers to reach them. In the long run, this will likely prove a good thing. In the short term, we can expect the growing pains that adopting any new media technology brings.

Advertisers will have to learn how to reach consumers on the consumer's chosen times and devices. This isn't going to be easy since the consumer will have the option of viewing any content on any device, at any time. Reaching the consumer in a world without prime time will require a different approach.

In the future, advertising must be:
  • Scalable for any screen size from a couple of inches to several feet.
  • Multi-modal allowing the consumer to easily switch from video commercial to the advertiser's Website, or instructional video, etc..
  • Personalized, with customized content based on consumer's behavior.
If the term “prime time” survives, it will be defined not in terms of network television schedules, but in terms of when consumers are providing their full attention to their iPads. This will be the prime time for advertisers to reach consumers, and advertisers can't afford to miss the opportunity.


Glen Emerson Morris was recently a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.




Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.


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