Some interesting thoughts about screen types and the implications for modern media.

When we interact with today’s four major screen types — TV, PC, mobile, and tablets — we exhibit common physical attributes along two dimensions: session length (how long we view) and physical posture (literally). Other physical variables, such as screen size, viewing distance, and viewing environment (home, office, transit) highly correlate to those two.

I pop these here as I think it makes a difference to how long a mobile game should ideally last for… but not just for mobile games but for mobile marketing and digital marketing in general. It is written by David Justus who is a principal at, a digital media consultancy. Follow him on Twitter @ContentCurrents.

In the below grid, PC, TV, and mobile can be seen to occupy mostly discrete quadrants. However the newest platform, tablets, overlaps all of them and so is the most versatile. Its portability, screen size, and reliance on a large number of native apps have made it a viable stand-in for many users for all of the others. This flexibility is reflected in the continued, massive growth in tablet shipments, which IDC expects will exceed total PC shipments in 2015.

Physical attributes

Note: The Session and Posture dimensions above, and the corresponding ones in the below chart, live on a spectrum. The items plotted on the grids are intended to be directionally accurate.

Mind: Engagement style

A year ago, software designer Craig Will proposed a different approach to succeed Nielsen’s Lean Forward/Back paradigm which he thought too simplistic and vague. He instead divided engagement style into absorption and activity levels. Think of absorption as representing retention resulting from focus, while activity is the frequency of user input.

The below table plots the most common consumer digital media tasks on an absorption — activity grid.

Engagement style

Like the Physical Attributes grid, certain tasks gravitate toward their own specific quadrants. For instance Recommendations (such as Netflix’s automated viewing suggestions), often appear by default for users and so are a Low Activity experience. But then another form of discovery, search, is a far more active endeavor. Communication about and curation of content ranges from creating music playlists and reviewing books to tweeting about TV shows and “liking” movies. These activities require our full, albeit fleeting, attention.

Consumption — the task of reading, watching, listening, and playing — demands various degrees of engagement, depending on the content and context.


Taken together, these two interaction models present a far more complete and real world accounting for how consumers interact with their media. Employing it could help the industry address some of its most stubborn problems. Here are just a few examples.

The connected-TV movement, exemplified by the variable smart TVs and Google’s recent entry, Chromecast, is poised to deliver a far greater amount of Web-native content to television sets. The long-anticipated Web invasion of the living room will require though that content and its design are optimized for the Physical Attributes above.

Charging consumers for many forms of digital content still continues to be difficult as well. Indeed, books and video games, as illustrated in the above grid, are digital content types consumers value enough to purchase.

Marketers seeking to reach highly engaged consumers are well advised to direct their advertising dollars to the upper right quadrant of the Engagement Style grid. For example, fans watching live sports on television and calling up stats on a second-screen iPad app are a highly valued advertising target.

This proposed model describes today’s digital media landscape, but of course we are still crossing over from our all-analog past to the all-digital future, when consumers will be able to access any content on any device, anywhere, at any time.



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