The iPad Changed Everything

January 27, 2015

This week marks the 5 year anniversary of the iPad.  Quite contrary to the expectations of the professional pundits, it changed the world of computing. And it arguably opened the floodgates to OTT video.

There’s nothing revolutionary about pointing out that more and more people experience TV and movies delivered across the Web.  Netflix, Hulu, the BBC iPlayer – all these things exist to deliver video without the need for proprietary pay TV infrastructure, and all are influential in their own way.  But the iPad did something that was infinitely more disruptive than a TV service – it created a whole new consumption pattern for video.  A multi-screen consumption pattern that meant digital broadcasters now had to assume their viewers – the lifeblood of their business – would skip merrily from screen to screen, yet expect a consistent, and consistently excellent, experience.

Prior to the iPad there were really two ways we watched TV: on the big rectangular box in the corner of the living room (or, if you’re in Vegas, the corner of the marble-appointed bathroom); or on a computer. Yes, there were a few committed viewers who would use a smart phone, but that tiny screen took a while to take off, perhaps because the jump from a 40 inch screen to a 4 inch one was so very jarring. With the advent of the iPad there was a middle road, a seven-ish inch screen, layered on top of a device that had no other fundamental purpose than to entertain.

The iPad was as influential in the growth of phone viewing as any other technology, and certainly exists as the ancestor of the horribly-named phablet market. It created the missing link that made the transition from enormous screens to ever-smaller ones comfortable and consumer-acceptable. And it shifted the average viewer from thinking of Internet video as grainy videos on a computer monitor, to thinking of it as just another way of accessing what they’d normally watch in the living room in prime time.

The greatest challenge, of course, was that, as consumers started to use a panoply of different devices to consume their entertainment, they stopped truly distinguishing the level of service from each.  As a Netflix viewer, for instance, a consumer would expect no loss of title availability, or nor viewing quality, as they stepped lightly between TV, PC, tablet, game console, and tablet. A negative experience on the iPhone stopped being a statement about the device, and more a statement about the digital broadcaster delivering to that device.

Conviva data shows that a negative experience on any supported platform has direct and deleterious impact on the engagement with all the others: a consumer who gets a lousy stream on their tablet is predictably less likely to return to the same service on their computer. To make things trickier, ‘lousy’ is relative – consumers are sufficiently aware of the capabilities of each device that they compare each experience in context.  We understand that HD is way more likely on a WiFi-connected PC than on a 4G-connected phone driving down the highway. The challenge for any broadcaster, then, is to deliver the best experience possible on the device being used – and thus protect the appeal of all the other platforms.

What will the future bring us? The Microsoft Surface 2 appears to be on its way out , yet the Surface Pro is booming.  Meanwhile battery life is finally turning a corner, promising us 24 hours between charges. The next device is always just around the corner, and perhaps our usage patterns will shift again.

Meanwhile, what we know for sure is that consumers will never return to a single device for their video, nor will they issue a pass for disappointing performance on one platform and simply shift back to where a particular broadcaster is strongest.  A comprehensive strategy to best the competition on each platform is de rigueur in order to compete today.  And that represents the best opportunity for creating market separation since the rush to be the first and best provider on the brand new iPad.  Happy Anniversary, iPad – it’s been a great ride, and we can’t wait to see the next ‘one more thing’