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Conversations about three screen strategies became conversations about four screen strategies this year. It looked like tablets would be used concurrently with PCs and mobiles, at least for a while, so fashionable jargon received an update.

Where are we now? Five screen strategies? Five and half screen strategies? The number of screens may explode in the not too distant future. 

The three screen strategy referred to the growing tendency for the TV to be on in the living room, with a PC or laptop available in addition to internet capable smart phones.  

Those TV ads that urge you to befriend a packet of crisps on Facebook are the baseline example of a three screen strategy; using attention media on one screen to provide an intention media interaction on the other. 

It probably is not a mistake to talk about four screen strategies. It looks as if talk of an immediate “post-PC world” is a little premature and that tablets will not be replacing laptops this or next year.

There are also significant differences in the presentation capabilities of laptops and tablets. The most popular tablet will not run Flash, for example, and most laptops can. User-agent detection systems tend to count tablets as mobile but not laptops.

It is incredibly important to recognise how people will interact with marketing content. It’s certainly key to understand how the presence of multiple screens in a living room or household will impact that but I suspect trying to count the screens will be a distraction. 

There’s no first screen. I’ve seen some of the traditional agencies, those who specialise in TV ads, trying to push strategies that are “first screen led” – the suggestion, the plan, being that TV generates the wow, the interest, the zip-bang-splash and that the humble internet performs the important but less showbiz task of harvesting leads.

This is not right. This is a failure to recognise just how people want to interact with brands.

I’ve suggested that screen counting isn’t a wise idea but I did mention something about the fifth screen, didn’t I? There are a number of contenders for the fifth screen or the next half screen.

There’s the Wii U and its remarkable but not yet market proven controller and there are “smartpad” handsets too. 

The Wii U and controller are interesting because the controller’s screen is sympathetic with the TV set. It is not yet proven but if we can speculate we might look at a number of possibilities.

The Wii U can stream games to the controller’s screen. If it can do that then it may well be able to stream movies and TV programs to the controller’s screen. 

A lot many depend on the Wii U’s ability to interact with the web. A Wii U that allowed us to watch TV and tweet via an on-screen widget would be interesting as would a controller that tapped into the growing Augmented Reality trend of providing an additional layer over the broadcast.

I said the Wii U would be sympathetic with the TV because it is likely the controller screen will be used in conjunction with the TV screen rather than competing for eyeball attention with it.

Imerj’s smartpad is just one of a number of devices that is looking to be as handy as a smartphone but also as suitable for video consumption as a tablet. Sony’s s2 tablet; which folds closed, is another example of a “half screen”. 

In common with the Wii U, the Imerj does put a focus on interaction. Increasingly people want to be able to dial up more information, at the very least, as they watch content. Interacting with or discussing content will be popular too.

I think it’s this transformation that’s far more significant than the number of screens in the room. That’s what marketers should focus on. 

Andrew Girdwood

Published 28 June, 2011 by Andrew Girdwood

Andrew Girdwood is Head of Media Technologies at Signal and a guest blogger for Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter here.

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Daniel Jones

Screens require so much attention and investment because for mobile devices like tablets and the Wii they are arguably the most important factor in determining the quality of a user experience.

almost 4 years ago

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