The ‘3 screens’ model is quite an interesting way to look at how people consume media. AT&T do a decent job of explaining the three screen model –
“three screens” that many consumers value most — the TV, the PC and the wireless phone.
in the near future, the lines between networks and access technologies will be blurred. And communications and entertainment services will be delivered to the “three screens” in an integrated and familiar way.
AT&T isn’t the only company that’s talking about the 3 screens –
- Here’s a PDF report from Nielsen on How people consume Media across 3 screens. Nielsen do a monthly report on 3 screen media consumption – here’s the 3 screen report for December 2009.
- Microsoft has a 3 screen and a Cloud strategy.
- MediaPost has a good post talking about the 3 screens.
You have to admit it makes a lot of sense.
How does the Cloud fit in with the 3 screens?
The Cloud is basically a platform – It provides distribution, storage, services, and more.
The Cloud is in a way the projected end state when, as AT&T say, ‘the lines between networks and access technologies will be blurred’.
In this end state the Cloud will be delivering services and media that are consumed on the 3 screens – TV, PC, and Phone.
However, we run into an interesting problem.
Ripples in the 3 Screens and a Cloud Model – eReaders
There are obviously some ripples in the 3 screens and a Cloud model –
Let’s focus on one in particular – books.
People and companies who believe in the 3 Screens and a Cloud model would think –
- Books are going to be stored in a cloud.
- Books are going to be read on one of the 3 screens.
However, eReaders sprang up and broke the 3 screens part of the equation.
eReaders as the potential Fourth Screen
The fact that eReaders are better for reading than any of the 3 current screens sets them up to be the mythical fourth screen.
- eInk has a competitive advantage over the 3 screens – its much, much closer to paper.
- eReaders come in a form factor that fits in neatly between phones and PCs.
- Reading spreads across books and school and work and a lot of other areas.
- People read enough for eReaders to gain huge sales volume and huge presence.
- eReaders come with huge advantages – battery life, readable in sunlight, very few distractions.
The rise of eReaders is going to run into a few roadblocks – some real, some imagined.
eReaders as the Fourth Screen – the Challenges
The 3 Screens trying to take back reading
We see a few examples of this already –
- Reading apps on phones.
- Reading Software on PCs.
- Pixel Qi’s multiple mode screen that makes PCs much better for reading.
eReader makers are well aware of this and are hedging their bets by creating reading applications for the PC and for various phones.
In addition to hedging their bets they are also, consciously or unconsciously, doing a few things to strengthen eReaders’ charge to be the fourth screen –
- (Usually) Locking people into their content libraries.
- Creating apps that are in the design philosophy of the dedicated eReader – thus functioning as a ramp to actual eReader ownership.
- Getting people back into reading so that they can transition to reading enough to justify buying a dedicated eReader.
- Making the reading applications limited enough to not really be a threat to eReaders.
It’s very intelligent strategy.
Competing Fourth Screen Devices
Another huge challenge to eReaders are devices that want to be the fourth screen themselves.
- Tablets and the iPad are a great example.
- Netbooks are a big threat too – although they are increasingly moving towards being thinner, cheaper laptops.
It’s an interesting contest –
- Are customers looking for a more mobile PC?
- Are customers looking for a dedicated reading device that specializes in reading?
- Will customers create a fourth and fifth screen?
I suspect the answer is the third option. We like simplicity and to be able to think in threes – However, and even AT&T say this, users have shown a tendency to embrace multiple screens and use them all.
- TV didn’t die out and neither will the phone and the PC.
- The PC and the mobile phone were embraced – so will eReaders and Tablets (or perhaps Netbooks).
What Happens if eReaders really do become the fourth screen?
They become really, really important. Much more important than just ‘screens for reading’ – even though reading is huge.
Here are a few directions eReaders could go in if they do become a fourth screen –
- Become relationship devices – They’re everywhere and they’re trusted.
- Expand into a purchase screen i.e. specialize for reading and e-commerce.
- Location Services.
- Start selling other types of media.
There are a lot of directions to go in. Getting a foothold is the key part and eReaders are well on their way to doing that.
The Battle for Being the Fourth Screen may be bigger than the Battle for Publishing
If you think of how strong the iTunes ecosystem is and how strong the Kindle ecosystem is, it’s clear that the reward for becoming the fourth screen people use might actually be greater than the reward for becoming the foundation for Publishing.
It’s a scary thought that eReaders might win an even bigger prize than control of the $50 billion annual revenues in Publishing (just an estimate – it’s $25 billion for the US).