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Working the web: The evolution of television and multi-screen behavior
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Working the web: The evolution of television and multi-screen behavior

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Chris Leone

Do you still have a landline? How about a cable TV subscription? 10 years ago, these may have been strange questions. In 2013, not as much. A recent survey done by eMarketer showed only 60 percent of US internet users still have a cable TV subscription, while 23 percent of users who used to have a cable subscription have kicked it to the curb.

This doesn’t mean users are consuming less media. On the contrary, we consume more media today than we ever have in history. More than a quarter of U.S. adults watch videos on non-TV devices like tablets and smartphones every day. More than half do so at least once a week. With at least one television connected to the Internet in 44 percent of U.S. households (up from 38 percent in 2012), users aren’t forced to switch from giant HD screens to small mobile screens just to consume web content. Digital media can be consumed wherever, whenever, and on whatever screen is most convenient.

As if the future of traditional cable TV isn’t grim enough, 74 percent of users would prefer to choose individual channels rather than paying for a bundle; a model much more embraced in the online world.

All of these trends indicate the same thing: traditional TV viewing is on the decline. Digital TV is on the rise. 

How service providers respond to this shift is not the focus of this article. However, it is important to observe that online media consumption isn’t simply competing with traditional media. It’s forcing service providers to change their entire delivery model.

Multi-screen behavior

The challenge facing service providers is second to the challenge facing marketers. Not only is the delivery model changing, the behavior of users while they consume content is also becoming more fragmented.

As the use of smartphones and tablets has become more prevalent, more than half of all media interactions involving one screen now coincide with the use of another. For example, sitting on the couch watching TV while your tablet or smartphone is by your side.

For users who own a TV and at least one other mobile device (smartphone or tablet), 77 percent of all TV interactions occurred alongside another device. Among the simultaneous activities that can take place, Internet browsing and social networking were two of the top three activities. As someone advertising on TV, knowing that the majority of viewers have an Internet browser or social network open while viewing your TV spot should influence the message you deliver and the action you want people to take.

Even if users aren't engaged on both devices simultaneously, sequential usage (the transitioning from one device directly to another) is also very prominent. Studies show 90 percent of users utilize a combination of devices to accomplish a task, with 98 percent of those tasks being completed on the same day. Both these behaviors create a whole new set of challenges when it comes to tracking and understanding ROI.

Tracking user across multiple devices

Tracking a single visitor across several different devices has become one of the biggest challenges facing web analytics. The traditional method of tracking a visitor involves setting a cookie on the user’s browser (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc). As long as that visitor uses the same browser on the same computer without deleting their cookies, we can track their activity for months, even years.

But as the user experience becomes more fragmented, the ability to attribute investment and strategy directly with sales becomes much more difficult. For example, if I see an ad for a product on television, look it up on my iPad once the commercial is finished and go back to my laptop to make the purchase the next day, it’s almost impossible to directly attribute that sale with the advertisement I saw the night before. Compare that to search engine marketing, where I can track someone clicking on my Google ad, landing on my site from that ad and making a purchase.

Overcoming the challenges of a fragmented, multi-device experience

Correlating the timing of marketing activity with outcomes on your website is one of the simplest methods for tracking user response across multiple devices. This can be done using real-time analytics, your standard web analytics reports or a combination of the two. If your advertisement calls for someone to take an action online, you can correlate online activity (visits, purchases, sign-ups) following the time your advertisement ran. You can also use your real-time reports to monitor fluctuations in visitors at the precise moment an advertisement is shown. Here are several other tactics you can use to track offline response online.

Universal analytics

One of the latest advancements in Google Analytics is Universal Analytics. This method of tracking allows you to assign a unique tracking ID to visitors when they sign into your site or mobile app. Since the tracking number is tied to the account they use when signing into the site or app (and not to a browser), you are able to track their behavior across multiple devices, so long as they sign in.

This is not a solution for every site, since most do not require a user to sign in. However, this new method of tracking opens many doors for social network and paid subscription sites, where creating an account is required.

The world of advancing mobile technology has created both exciting opportunities and complex challenges. The way users consume and interact with content has become much more fragmented, and as a result, our ability to track and accurately market to these individuals is not nearly as simple. In the end, it is our job as business owners and marketers to see where the world is going, and create/buy/invest/adopt systems and technologies that work harmoniously with an ever-changing landscape.

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