Americans spend nearly 9 hours a day watching digital content

Steven Loeb · February 13, 2019 · Short URL:

While video is big driver of engagement, Adobe also found very little patience if it doesn't work

The smartphone has only been around for a decade, but it has completely reshaped every aspect of our lives, from how we shop to how we date to how we read. Most important, it has completely changed the way we consume content. It's hard to remember a time when you'd leave the house and not be able to watch a video.

There's tremendous value in understanding how consumers are engaging with that content, not just in which devices they are using, but what types of content work best and in which settings. On Wednesday, Adobe released its second annual Consumer Content Survey, in which it asked 1,000 consumers in the U.S. those very questions.

The result is that the company found that not only is digital content consumption going up, but that consumers are beginning to establish expectations and preferences around what they want to see and where they want to see it.

"The reason we’re focused a lot around content is because we believe that it is the soul of every experience," Loni Stark, Senior Director Strategy and Product Marketing at Adobe, told me in an interview.

"There are more and more screens and those screens need content that’s personalized, that can really help with a product experience. We really look at how we can help brands with creating that great content on all their devices, whether that is a car that now has huge screens in it, or whether it’s their coffee maker that has a screen or even a refrigerator. All of that requires a lot of content and the demands that consumers have of that content is changing. This survey is about is finding out how has that changed over the last year and where it's going."

Increasing device time 

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that the amount of time spent on screens goes down with each successive generation; while consumers spend, on average, 8.8 hours a day engaging with digital content, that number is higher with younger generations and lower with older generations. Gen Z, for example, spend 11.4 hours a day on their screen, while Millennials spend 10.9 hours, but Baby Boomers spend 7.5 hours. 

As Stark pointed out to me, the difference between the youngest generation and the oldest isn't all that wide, only a little more four hours a day, but there are major differences in how marketers should approach each of these age groups, given their preferences for how to be approached.  

"The difference is there are still more of the demands from these traditionalists and Baby Boomers to have some of that human touch, to be able to call up someone and have a conversation if things are going wrong, or to go into a store and be able to speak to someone should they need to. They’re also wanting to make sure they can get things through email or through the website where needed," she said.

"When you look at the Gen Z and Millennials, they don’t want to get on the phone, they just want to get a text. That is the difference, thinking of the mix human interaction and pure digital shifts. More and more of that stuff can be taken care of through digital channels, through digital means, whereas Baby Boomers perhaps still want more of that human touch."

Personalization without being creepy

While older generations may want a human involved more than younger generations, there is still the expectation of some kind of personalization, even in those transactions.

There is now the expectation the person on the other end will have at least some of your information and be able to assist you without needing to go find out everything about you first, Stark noted. However, there's a fine line between being helpful and being creepy about it, and consumers are increasingly aware of when brands overstep it.

More than half of those surveyed said they are more likely to make a purchase if content is  personalized, but, at the same time, 82 percent also said they would stop purchasing from a brand if it "crossed the line with a creepy, personalized experience." In addition, the overwhelming majority of every generation are also already adjusting their setting to protect their information, including 80 percent of Gen Z and 76 percent of Millennials.

"There is now also a fine line of not getting to a point where you feel like your privacy is violated. It’s in some ways comforting to know that when you call and they ask for an ID, you give it, so it’s like you’re giving the permission to look you up so you don’t have to tell them all that basic information about you. They look you up and they have all that information. Now, there could be also the possibility that based on connection with your phone number that they just know who you are," said Stark.

"It would be interesting to think through, if you call them up and before you said your name, they’re like, ‘Hey, we figured you’d be calling us because you popped up and it seemed like you had an issue this morning after you had your cereal. We were wondering whether we should reach out or wait for you to call us, and then we decided to let you call us. Here’s what you need to do.’ On one hand, you’d be like, ‘That’s super personal,’ on the other hand you’d be like looking around your room thinking about how they knew that. Was it the Alexa device? Was is the Google Home device? That’s where it gets into the whole part findings where personalization has gone to a level where it expects that it also social etiquette, that they’re not going to just use that digital information and personalization and violate your privacy."

The omni-channel experience 

One thing that is increasing are the number of people using multiple devices at once; as of 2018, 14 percent of all those surveyed, including 28 percent of Millennials, say they are using three or more devices at once to engage with digital content. That number has more than doubled year-over-year.

With more devices, that means marketers have to create omni-channel solutions, or ad campaigns that can reach across not only multiple devices, but across online and in-store as well. However, here have been some challenges in making this work, Stark told me, including getting data from different systems to work together. 

"It can be with some companies around their policies or what promotions they offer and making sure that it’s consistent, so that you don’t have the bad experience of going from one channel and then another one, not being aware of an offer or content from one channel to another. That’s also because content has predominantly sat in different silos; there’s been different teams that have been the ones that do email versus support versus the website. That disconnect is becoming noticeable when consumers have more and more devices," she said.

When brands and marketers have been able to solve this, though, it has worked well in bridging the online and offline worlds, making offers that are available online also available in-store, where consumers still make a large number of their purchases. According to the survey, nearly half of respondents said they still visit stores in person to make purchases, while nearly the same amount said they make purchases online. That gives stores with an online presence a major opportunity to bridge the two.  

The best omni-channel experiences are these where one channel supplements and enhances the other, said Stark. 

"Where omni-channel has worked well is if you have started to look at things online, for example shopping for a car, being able to bring in all your selection preferences, so that when you go into a dealership they’re ready to understand what you’ve already looked at and what you’re interested in and get to the specific questions that you want to get to. That’s definitely one connection which is not only a better experience because, if you drove yourself all the way to a store, or you phoned up someone, you want to make sure they have your context, but, also, it also makes a lot of sense for brands because they invest a lot in these channels that they make them additive and not replication of what’s happened in the store. Or being able to purchase online and return to the store. It’s one of the main reasons why companies like Amazon have seen the value of brick and mortar and are trying to connect the two," she said. 

"Where omni-channel hasn’t worked well is where there’s been a disconnect, or where brands look at these different channels almost as competitive."

For example, if a customer is buying their items online from a company’s website and then decide to go in store and they find it for a better price, or vice versa, finding better prices online than in store, it can make the consumer not trust that they are getting the best deal from that brand. 

"I find that, in the long run, companies that look at all of these different channels as complimentary, and look at how they can deliver even more value from each of these channels because of their nature, is a better strategy."

Video is becoming even more essential, but be careful

When it comes to video, it has become an essential part of the brand experience. While 54 percent of those surveyed said they would be be more willing to stay on a brand’s channel if video content is included, including 76 percent of Gen Z and 65 of Millennials, half also said that they would stop viewing the content entirely due to poor video resolution or a slow connection.

That impatience has to do, in part, with expectation, Stark told me. If consumers see video as an essential part of the experience, having it not work frustrates them even more.

"Consumers want video, but they also don’t have patience when it goes wrong because, in some ways, they now see video almost as a necessity. Just like in your home you want there to be heating and electricity and if it doesn’t work it’s bad, but if it works it’s like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ Video is approaching that front," she said.

Going back to the omni-channel aspect of content, making video work across all the different devices that people are using is essential, but also difficult. 

"The slowness has a lot to do with bandwidth. Are you on a connected line into your home and it’s really fast? Are you on a mobile device and you’ve just gone through your fixed plan and now the service throttling you and you still want to watch that video? Some of ways we see the need for brands is thinking about how to deliver video at different resolutions based on the connections. And the other part of it is, depending on the different screen size, how do you zoom in? So if you’re watching video on a large screen, you’re going to want much more detail, whereas if you’re on a smaller screen like your phone, perhaps you want things that are perhaps more zoomed," said Stark. 

Ultimately, video is so important that it is growing beyond just the digital and is becoming part of the overall experience. For example, if someone goes to a brand website and watches a video, if that same customer then calls up, the person they talk to should know that they already watched that video, and that they are calling to find out something that wasn't answered in that video they just watched. 

"When I talk to brands it’s a matter of not if they're going to video, but how. Video has definitely been shown to improve brand engagement and conversion and we see, as provider of video solutions, that every year that continues to grow in terms of volumes of videos and things that are being serviced by our cloud service."

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