Time Spent on mobile

Mobile Time-Spent: Behind the Numbers

Last week, research firm eMarketer released a report on UK media consumption that revealed a dramatic rise in time-spent on mobile devices. This growth – to one hour 49 minutes per day, a 600% increase in four years – is driving a much broader shift in consumer behavior, with people in the UK now spending more time with digital than broadcast television. To understand the implications of this change, we dug into the data with eMarketer’s Editorial Director Ezra Palmer.


You’ve now presented the findings of your report in the US and the UK. What kind of reaction have you seen?

When I’ve presented the numbers in the US and UK, I get a polite hearing but I think that amongst a lot of observers there is probably a sense of, ‘Maybe soon.’ Even inside my company, when we first realized that the research was leading us to believe that we had reached a tipping point – that TV really was flat and that the vast adoption of mobile was pushing digital access up above TV time – there were no small number of people on the staff who said, ‘Yeah, I believe you but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think it’s a year or two down the line.


How do you explain that hesitancy?

While we recognize that patterns of behavior have changed, we don’t necessarily understand the quality of those behaviors, and I think that’s especially challenging for media and marketing companies. People are clearly spending vast amounts of time connected to mobile devices but what we don’t really understand is the quality of that time. It’s tough. As a marketer, your life just got harder.


What’s your stake in all this? Why is eMarketer promoting the idea that mobile and digital time spent is reaching an inflection point?

We don’t have a dog in the race. What we’re here to do is synthesize all this information and try and make sense of it for our clients. We don’t want to be provocative. Our role is to provide tools to make decisions. If 50% of the audience walk away saying, ‘Yeah, yeah. Mobile is big but… whatever,’ that’s okay. I’ve still provided them with some nuggets of information they can use to make decisions.


You say you don’t want to provoke but not everybody agrees with your numbers. What’s your response to critics of the research, especially within, say, the TV industry?

We fall back on our methodology. It’s not that we’re doing primary research that tells us that ‘x’ and ‘y’ is happening; the primary researchers are telling us these things. It’s a matter of sifting through the data and looking at the methodology and trying to understand why these variances occur. And maybe challenging some of the orthodoxy in the way that the numbers have traditionally been interpreted. But fundamentally this is third-party data that we’re synthesizing and then providing hopefully some insight or perception along with it so you can look at it and make an informed decision.

And we’re not challenging the utility of these pre-existing or older platforms. What’s interesting is that TV time is flat and we don’t necessarily have a viewpoint that that’s going to change. TV is not going away: it’s still a significant proportion of the day and our attention.

What I see going on right now is that television is rushing to become more like digital, the same way that digital is trying to become like television. Television wants to be measurable and actionable. Digital wants to be immersive and engaging. Everyone is reaching for the same goal.

That said, there’s not much you can say to somebody who doesn’t believe that the shift to mobile is happening. It seems to me that the data is unchallengeable. I get that there’s going to be disagreements about the absolute numbers that we come out with but I don’t think at this point that you can challenge the idea that mobile is taking up a larger and larger percentage of the total media day. You cannot ignore the vast attitudinal, behavioral – and I would say psychological – changes that are occurring because of mobility.


You describe it as ‘the connected consiousness’.

If it were not a valuable way of interacting and being, we wouldn’t be doing it. Mobile is an extension of us. I am constantly connected not simply because it’s easy – we do this because there are certain aspects of mobility that truly are a different and richer way of interacting with the world.

It’s fundamental, and I think maybe that idea of a fundamental shift in being or psychology is the thing that people have not truly bought into. It’s one thing to look at the numbers, it’s another to think about the amazing ramifications of that.