Why The iPad Changes Everything

I would love to know how iPad owners compare the experience of watching full length video on their device versus watching the same content in traditional lean-back mode on their TV screens.   I think this is the critical question.  If the full length video experience on the iPad is judged equivalent or close to equivalent to traditional TV viewing, for most content most of the time, then we can expect the iPad and the tablet form generally will fundamentally change the future of TV.

I bet the same question for laptops would get a very different answer.   There are times, places and circumstances when people watch full length video on their laptops but, given the option, I expect they would mostly prefer to port the content to the big screen.   In contrast, the iPad may be more than an on-the-go, on the train, in the airport alternative; to the degree that it is a strong viewing option for full length video in any circumstance…that makes it a game changer.

Prior to the iPad all full length video was ultimately headed toward one door.    For Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc…the critical step was to get ported over-the-top to the TV screen.    It is in this scenario that on demand competitors might actually supplant cable and satellite subscriptions for at least some group of people who cut the cord.  And it is in this scenario that on demand competitors could compete with cable and satellite time –fighting for control of viewing behavior in the 10-foot screen.

In this pre-iPad reality, laptop and smartphone screens would likely play a secondary role for actually consuming full length content; their usage would be tilted to short form.  They would play a key role in helping people find the full length video content they’re looking for and let them socially interact around it.   These roles for other screens remains…but the iPad blows up the centrality of the traditional TV experience and opens another major door for full length video consumption.

Right now the numbers are small.   The latest U.S. penetration number that I’ve seen for tablets is 6%, as cited by Mark Walsh in MediaPost a couple of weeks ago.     Nielsen reported just under 5% earlier this year.    Sales projections are very bullish though:  Gartner is projecting worldwide tablet sales of 63.6M in 2011, up from 17.6M in 2010 and rising to 326.3M in 2015…so there may be 5-6 fold increase in penetration over the next few years.   Most important is data reported by In-Stat : “50% of tablet owners are viewing not only feature-length movies on their device, but TV shows as well”.    We don’t know how much, how frequently…but we have some indication that tablets are being widely used as a multimedia device, as a way to watch long form video.

And in that role they have the potential to change everything.