The iPad is the "First Screen"

Eric Wiesen Mar 10, 2012 Back to blog


Yesterday a couple of my colleagues and I met with a senior executive at one of the world’s biggest media companies to talk about what we’re seeing in the world and a few of our companies. As part of the general level setting she asked how we were seeing the development of the “second screen” as a media consumption device. And after pausing for a beat to make sure the answer wasn’t going to be obnoxious, I responded that of course we think it’s a hugely important media consumption device – that television has been important for decades and will continue to be important.

The release of the new iPad yesterday is a good opportunity to pause and pull back and reconsider how media is making its way into the living room (and into other rooms of the house). If you polled the average household in 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982 or 1992 what you’d have found is essentially the same thing – people got their media on a box with a CRT in it. The delivery mechanism shifted over time from OTA to cable or a dish, the picture got colorful, but for the most part over a 40 year period things didn’t change much. In 2002 you’d have found a few people with DVR’s and a small handful with HDTVs tuning what they could find over the air in 1080i or 720p. There were researchers and engineers building plasma displays but they weren’t commercialized. In 2002 people were still basically just “watching TV”.

Consider the evolution of television viewing over this past decade. The notion of buying a CRT box, bringing it home, plugging into a set top box and then coming home from work and just flipping around and watching programming that’s being shown at the time is almost unthinkably quaint, and not just to we in the tech community but to mainstream users.

  • DVR is ubiquitous
  • Most TVs are flat and display HD (many display 1080P)
  • VOD is widely deployed

But really, those are the incremental changes, not the big ones. People now watch services like Hulu on their non-television devices and consider that “watching TV”. We download content to our phones and watch when we’re on the move.

And when we sit in front of the big screen 10-15 feet away, we do with another device on our laps. And that’s the thought that went through my head as I was asked about the “second screen”. My media diet today still includes movies and the occasional television show (the new season of Game of Thrones starts in a few weeks…) but it also includes web content, social media destinations and games. And if I’m home and not at my desk, chances are it’s the iPad that delivers the majority of this to me, even if The Daily Show is playing (via DRV of course) on our bigger screen in the living room.

We’re less than two years into this experiment – the first generation iPad was released in April 2010. Much of the content delivery and infrastructure that will enable the transition to first screen-ness isn’t built yet, but this is happening incredibly quickly. The future vision of the big screen isn’t the multi-paneled screen showing nine programs at a time depicted in Back to the Future II, it’s each family member watching the programming they like on a screen they control. And that’s the first screen. The big, linear shared experience is the second screen.

Marty Junior