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Digital Tonto: The new digital battlefield

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March 14, 2012, 4:21 p.m. | Op-ed — by Greg Satell

Greg Satell

Just over a year ago, Mary Meekerlaid out her vision forSoLoMo, a new paradigm that where social, local and mobile media are at the fore. Meeker has developed a reputation over the years for capturing digital trends and this time was no different.

Since that time, SoLoMo has become more than a buzzword, but the new reality. We’ve come to expect that our media goes where we go, adapts to our location and allows us to share.

The next frontier, however, will be the creation of immersive experiences at home and in-store. Rapid advancement in base technologies, heavy investment by major players and serious interest from marketers are combining to transform the way will experience media. That’s the new digital battlefield. Here’s what’s driving the change.

New screens

One of the most exciting areas of innovation right now is the screens themselves, particularly the OLED technology. Although it may seem like just another addition to the alphabet soup for underpaid teenagers to confuse us with at Best Buy, this really does represent a fundamental change.

The screens are made of special materials that don’t need to be back-lit and back-lighting is what makes screens heavy and clunky. So these will be lighter, thinner and eventually much cheaper than we ever thought possible. To get an idea how different the experience will be, check out this super cool video from Corning.








How close are we? At CES 2012, LG showed of a 55 inch OLED that will retail for about $5000 later this year. Samsung had a smart window that was completely transparent. In the future, they will become bigger and much, much cheaper. Michio Kaku predicts they will be eventually cost about as much as wallpaper and be almost as thin.

The bottom line is that we’ll be using screens for a lot more than a viewing experience, but as an integral part of our environment.

The new TV wars

I wrote at the end of last year that 2012 will be the year of the interface and that’s exactly what it’s shaping up to be. With the success of Microsoft’s gesture based Kinect platform and Apple’s voice activated Siri, the entire way we use technology is being rethought.

At the center of the pitched battle is Google TV, Apple TV and Microsoft’s Xbox Live. Google has already signed up LG, Samsung and Vizio to their platform and a breakthough Apple TV, while still a mystery, is hotly anticipated by just about everyone. Just before Steve Jobs died he said that he’d “finally cracked” the TV problem, we should find out if he did later this year.


However, as I noted in an earlier post about Microsoft’s resurgence, Steve Ballmer and company do seem to have the edge this time. Xbox live already has more than 60 Million paying users, they’ve signed up top notch content providers like HBO and have started to integrate the whole shebang into their Windows platform.

The impact will go far beyond home entertainment. Take a look how Kinect is being deployed for applications like helping autistic children and rehabilitating stroke patients and it becomes clear that we’re not just talking about a better way to watch a video.


The second screen

One of the most consequential developments has been the rise of Post-PC computing. Research by Nielsen uncovered that more than 40% of people who own a smartphone or tablet use them while watching TV. That’s opening up some big opportunities.

Intel released their Pair and Share app which allows you to share media across screens seamlessly. Companies like Viggle, IntoNow and GetGlue have developed companion apps that recognize what you’re watching and serve content that complements TV content. You can comment with friends, buy things featured in the show or access background information.

Another interesting development is the advent of opt-in ads. Companies like Tapjoyand Socialvibe allow you to access premium content and game power-ups by performing an an action or watching an ad. The Post-PC ecosystem that’s emerging is complete with deep penetration, content and a revenue model.

The transformation of retail

One unintended consequence of SoLoMo is the challenges it has posed for retail. It used to be that a good selection and and attractive storefront were enough to drive customers to your door and get the cash register ringing. Those days are over.

Now, they check apps like Yelp before they walk in. A bad experience a customer had with a rude salesperson or waitress a year ago will show up and drive business to a competitor. Even when you get them in the store, they can check out your wares and search for a better deal online.

The future of retail then, revolves around harnessing digital technology to create enhanced experiences. This video from Razorfish gives a good preview of what it will look like:

target="_blank">Razorfish Connected Retail Experience Platform (codename "5D")

Obviously, the Razorfish vision is simply that, one perspective on what will all look like. The reality, will of course be somewhat different. The salient point, though, is that to survive in the digital age, retailers will need to create immersive experiences.

As Ron Johnson, creator of the Apple Store and currently CEO of J.C. Penney said in an HBR interview, “A store has got to be much more than a place to acquire merchandise. It’s got to help people enrich their lives. If a store just fulfills a specific product need, it’s not creating new types of value for the consumer. It’s transacting.”

A different kind of convergence

Marketing channels used to be sequestered into neat little packages: TV, radio, print, outdoor and direct marketing, agencies and suppliers, media and creative. Those distinctions have blurred considerably and will soon disappear altogether.

Rishad Tobaccowala calls this digital leakage. It’s starting to show up by what we don’t see in the numbers. There is a gap in media expenditures the way we currently account for them. I earlier estimated this gap to be $65 billion in the US. By any standard, that’s real money.

Where’s it going? A convergence of media unified on a digital platform. We don’t really have a name for it yet, but it’s changing media and marketing as we know it. SoLoMo heralded the new paradigm of always-on access, but the next wave of innovation will be at-home and in store.

The new digital battlefield will be not be about mobility or location, but immersive experiences.



Greg Satell is a U.S.-based independent media analyst.You can read his blog entries at http://www.digitaltonto.com.
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