We may argue that we didn’t need studies to tell us that tablets are taking attention away from TV screens. In fact, before tablets and smartphones even existed, laptops were already gaining ground in the living room.

Today, the question is not whether we live in a multiscreen world or not, but which screen is the most valuable, the the bigger one or one getting the most attention from consumers? Is it possible that the data from those studies needs to be reinterpreted?

During Internet Week in New York, I had a chance to hear from many content creators and broadcasters, both from traditional media outlets and over-the-top service providers, and they consistently stated the existence of only two screens: TV and everything else. It doesn’t matter whether it is a smartphone or a tablet, as long as it is a suitable companion, any device that has the potential to redirect viewers back to the content will be considered an extension of the TV set. 

Not surprisingly, most efforts to recapture some of that lost attention take the form of social TV experiences designed around specific shows, as standalone apps. However, if the premise that the consumer primary locus of attention is on the TV screen is wrong, then these tactics will not be as effective as advertisers would hope for. You need only to examine your own television viewing patterns to realize your attention is divided not only during commercial breaks.

How can marketers take advantage of this?

In that context, the picture is a somewhat more complex for marketers. First of all, there is no guarantee that the consumer journey will always start on the TV screen. In fact, recent studies suggest a surge in video consumption in the more personal spaces enabled by mobile devices, in particular tablets, which are now in the hands of 25% of smartphone owners. In a market where, for example, over 40% of US TV viewers watch shows recorded on their DVRs, it is important to recognize the consumer’s increasing need of control and it’s effect of the effectiveness of passive forms of advertising.

On my previous post, I described screen convergence as a non-linear journey that a consumer experiences while transitioning between different devices. However, the main component in the context change is not geographical, but in the consumer’s state of mind. In other words, when a consumer turns her attention to her smartphone is not necessarily because she is walking out of the door, but for many other possible reasons having to do with the actions enabled by each particular device.

Anticipating their behavior at each stage of the journey provides a great opportunity for engaging consumers while not in front of the TV. 

The notion of the TV set being the de facto first screen is outdated. Television, movies, games, and all other kinds of media, together with advertising, will continue to merge across screens as the amount of Internet-enabled devices making their way into consumers ecosystems increases in both quantity and diversity.

Maybe that is too scary a thought for an industry that has been operating just fine with very little disruptions in their business models. However, we need to understand that consumers are not passive anymore and will pay to have the content they want when they want it. And if consumers are not successful on their own, they may find a game changing ally; I bet Apple can at least figure out how to unbundle cable channels by the time they introduce their own television set in 2013.