As originally published in Synergyzer Issue 2 – 2019

Media Habits are evolving with the fast-changing developments in the digital world. As the world nucleuses around large and small screens with varying intensities of public and personal access, the choices of media consumption are in disruption. This article is the first in the series written by Ali Raza Merchant, which explores the impact of digital technology in North America.

As I was watching the Pakistan Super League (PSL) live on CricketGateway.com on my TV and sometimes on my tablet or cell phone, I realized that there is a major change in the way I have started consuming media. Being in North America, we do not have the luxury of free live sports content on TV. However, paying for content does allow much more flexibility to view media at your own terms i.e. where and when I choose to view it. By the way, well done PCB for organizing such an excellent event and creating a league of their own. PSL has the right ingredients to become a world-class event and help re-build Pakistan’s image in the process.

I wish to commence the discussion with the idea of media screens. This is not a new concept, but it is important as it explains how the choice of screens has a major shift in our viewing and media consumption habits. We all know that a screen is the medium on which the content is visually displayed and viewed, some examples including Cinema, Large Public Displays Out of Home (OOH), CCTV screens at outlets like banks and other stores, TV, Computers, Tablets, and Cellphones. The important thing to note here is that the first three screens are not in the viewer’s control whereas the latter four give us the choice to watch what we wish to.

This access to content control is now a very fast changing phenomenon in the West as it is now allowing greater freedom and access to viewers to choose what they wish to watch and where. This stems from the fact that busy and fast-paced lifestyles no more allow viewers to consume content through a specific airing schedule, giving rise to platforms like Netflix and Shome in Canada, which are growing rapidly, and through which viewers have access to a large library of multi-genre and multi-linguistic media content. You can find feature films in English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Farsi etc. as well as documentaries, TV show series, reality TV shows, music concerts, stand up comedies, cartoons, other content for children…the list keeps going on. Costing around CAD 8 to 10 per month, any viewer can decide what to watch, when and on which screen. In the USA, there are many more options like HBO, Amazon Prime, Hulu etc. that offer similar content libraries.

We all know that the idea of multiple screens is dependent on the access to cost-effective technology. This means that your TV, Computer, Tablet, and Cellphone need to have the necessary hardware to display the high quality (HD) content that is offered through these platforms. Interestingly, TV’s and Multimedia Projectors currently being sold are 3D enabled for which 3D content is not easily available. The scenario is similar to that of a few years ago when in a number of countries viewers had HD TV’s, but the content being aired by TV channels was in analog format that made the upgraded technology redundant.

The second most important element in making this technologically possible is the affordable cost of Wi-Fi and mobile data. Currently, high-speed internet and mobile data plans ranging from CAD 50 to 80 per month allow a large majority of people to have access to viewing on their personal gadgets. This cost may further reduce in the next few years making it more feasible to switch viewing habits. I wish to clarify here that this does not mean that people do not watch TV in the traditional form, rather from what I have observed is that traditional TV viewership is largely amongst older people who are either retired or close to retirement.

Another interesting phenomenon in the process of watching on Netflix or Shome is that the content is without any commercials. This is a major change in content viewing dynamics as it reduces the total viewing time and makes the viewing experience more impactful as there is little distraction due to no breaks in content flow. Given a choice, I would prefer to watch all programming advert-free as it is much more fun this way.

What is important in this changing media landscape is the realization that content and viewer is KING. Except for live content like sports, all other viewing matter does have a much longer shelf life and repeat viewing value. With so much content to view, it is impossible for a working professional to view it at the regular airing time on a traditional TV channel, thus bringing us to the discussion of delayed content viewership acceptance amongst a large number of media consumers, who don’t necessarily want to watch the content when it is freshly aired on traditional TV channels.

Another interesting phenomenon that is becoming more prevalent is original content development by the platforms themselves. House of Cards (Netflix), Game of Thrones (HBO) and The Man in the High Castle (Amazon) are some examples of multiple high-quality programming developed by these networks. More and more (and new) Hindi, Tamil and Pakistani movies are available for viewership, proving that the large immigrant population is also being targeted by the networks.

It seems that higher average incomes in North America make it possible for consumers to purchase gadgets that allow them a personal viewing experience. Cellphones are bundled with phone and data plans thereby making it very easy for any subscriber to get a smartphone with specs that enable HD content viewing easily. Furthermore, special price promotions that give installment based purchasing options allow consumers to purchase expensive TV’s and Home Projectors which have Wi-Fi capability.

This trend is already on the rise and due to evolving lifestyles, it will get more popular. What needs watching out for are the technological developments that will steer it further into a more personalized form. It is clear that customers want more control over content and will be looking for even more in the future making it a greater challenge for traditional TV networks to stay in the race. It is quite possible that such networks might partner or merge with platforms like Netflix and Amazon to leverage their access to customers, which is the key in going to the next level.

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Ali Raza Merchant is a marketing veteran with over 25 years of experience with multiple industries. After graduating from IBA in 1989, he joined Hoechst Pharmaceuticals (now Aventis) as a marketer, and then ventured into textile marketing. But since his heart was always in the FMCG business, he joined Lakson Tobacco Company (Philip Morris), and did a 10 year tenure there which included heading the Marketing Division. After Lakson, he moved to Synergy Advertising as an Executive Director and played a major part in Synergy’s growth as a communications group. Ali now lives in Toronto, where he moved with his family in 2013. He works for Toronto Dominion Bank’s Marketing Planning Division for the Insurance business.