Ryan McAbee reflects on the CleanSlate2011 B2B Tablet Media Conference

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PMC provides Media Sponsorship for numerous Industry events around the globe throughout the year, and while we cant always attend ourselves, we are fortunate to have an audience filled with professionals who are willing to stand in for us.  Ryan McAbee, Chief Blogger at M-Bossed.com answered our call and attended CleanSlate 2001: A B2B Tablet Media Conference produced by OnTrack Communications in NYC on July, 19th and has provided an excellent recap to share with all of you.  Enjoy! And a special thanks to Nina Wales from OnTrack for contacting us to be a Media Sponsor – and hooking up Ryan with our press pass!

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Do you ever wish you had a place to hangout where the cool kids were those toting the most connected, accessory laden devices? Then you should have been at the inaugural Clean Slate conference hosted this week in New York City. The conference held nine sessions, filled with advice from industry experts, to sort out the state of the tablet economy and how to tap into its rapidly growing market.

Tablets are an odd bunch. They can do more than simple e-readers yet are less mobile than smart phones, which put them in somewhat of an awkward adolescent stage. Companies who are in the space and track analytics are not quite sure how to classify them either. Some like ESPN consider them mobile plays like smart phones whereas The Weather Channel considers them a separate fourth screen. According to Carl Rowe of the Yankee Group, a consumer research firm, 92% of iPad traffic came through WiFi networks, which places emphasis on portability instead of true mobility.

Light, casual, lean back, and stacking were all terms bantered back and forth throughout the sessions to describe how consumers are using their tablets. Because of the instant-on, always connected nature, tablet usage is dominated by e-mail, web browsing, and “light” gaming. More worrisome for TV advertisers is the new behavior of “stacking” media where TV watching takes a backseat to the finger pecking of our tablets.

Considering the attendees were a subset, albeit early adopter, of the larger tablet demographic there were a few obvious anecdotal trends revealed. Tablet users like trying new apps, use them mainly for web browsing, do not favor subscriptions, and still rely on a laptop for “real work.” To prove one of these points, Alexandra Levy of MediaLink asked for a show of hands for how many subscribed to the all-tablet newspaper The Daily. Less than five people in the room were counted.

TabletSphere

With any nascent technology, consumer behavioral patterns and demographics are just starting to emerge into a clearer picture. So far the purchasers of tablets skew toward the above 35 years old, financially equipped crowd, which seems plausible considering the above $500 dollar price point for the more popular tablets.

Usage patterns are not as well defined as who buys tablets. Older women, according to how much information is consumed on the tablet, appear to be the power users. Once the tablet enters a family structure, however, all hands are in the cookie jar to use it. One panelist admitted to buying two iPads just so he could still have a turn.

The appeal for device makers, advertisers, marketers, and content producers is the potential growth of the overall tablet market. According to Gigi Wang of the Yankee Group, the inflection point for mobile growth in the US market happened in 2010. The rest of the world will pass the tipping point this year. More robust cellular networks and the inevitable lowering price point for tablets should speed adoption. The Consumer Electronics Association had to increase its original prediction of total units sold for 2011 to 42 million. Many other research firms are predicting hockey stick growth through 2015. With that scale, the stakes for content producers and marketers are worth the risk of early adoption.

Which came first? The Tablet or the Egg

Until the installed base reaches the saturation point, a lot of organizations are taking calculated risks or a wait-and-see approach to entering the tablet market. To date only Apple, through the iPad and its associated App Store ecosystem, has shown enough scale to interest most companies. Representatives from Pandora, Houghton Mifflin, and The Daily all stated that their companies were evaluating other tablet platforms like Android but were still in a wait-and-see holding pattern.

Beyond the challenges of supporting multiple tablet platforms and numerous app stores, content providers also have to make a decision between making a mobile optimized, HTML 5 experience or developing a platform specific app. Although HTML 5 specification was not specifically developed for tablets, the promise of being able to deploy that content across multiple devices without the need for custom development keeps the debate ongoing. If the companies represented at Clean Slate are any indication, then development of a custom app is required to provide a seamless, immersive experience for the consumer.

When it comes to the app stores, the 500 pound gorilla is Apple. Since Apple controls the App Store ecosystem, working within their parameters can be tenuous and tedious. Content providers need the scale and distribution but have to play within the rules set forth by Apple. From the marketing and discovery point of view, the panelist emphasized the importance of being on the App Store’s promoted lists. Even so Corinne Helman, Vice President of Digital Publishing for HarperCollins Children, admitted to a 50/50 success rate on their digital storybooks saying some “sank like a stone” which is especially challenging when the costs are similar to traditional book publishing. By using Apple’s app update mechanism though, the life of those books can be extended to push more downloads.

Touching a Media Conglomerate

More than one content provider said that the need to support tablets was part of a strategic initiative to be everywhere the consumer goes. John Kosner, who is responsible for digital and print media for ESPN, especially knows the importance of spreading sporting content to every platform. ESPN extends its media reach through 7 domestic TV networks, two print publications with total circulation over 2 million, over several web properties, and finally through mobile delivery. ESPN.com garnered 36 million unique page views just in the month of June.

With a constantly fragmenting audience, ESPN follows a motto of “live, local, and social” with the tablet able to tap into each area. ESPN’s focus is on the complete user experience regardless of the media or the delivery platform. Kosner adamantly stated, “ Touch is a revolution.” The ability begin reading a ESPN magazine article, flip over to an expanded statistics infographic, and flick open a video highlight reel are all possible on a tablet.

Just as consumers have multiple ways to consumer their content, advertisers are also able to take advantage of multi-channel delivery. ESPN has an integrated advertisement sales team and feels that integrated media buys offer the advertiser more value. According to Kosner two-thirds of the ad buys are integrated deals that span beyond one of their properties. Brands gain exposure not only through TV but also print, or digital, or mobile, or all of the above.

Print in the Mobile Experience

People do not live in a vacuum and neither should their media. Marketers and content providers are eager to reach the tablet audience but any emerging market segment presents inherent challenges. Demographics shift over the life of the adoption curve while development costs increase as the technology evolves and standardizes to name a few.

More importantly, the reach of any marketing platform is neither infinite nor repeatable.

According to Carl Rowe only 1% of worldwide browser traffic originates in iOS (iPad and iPhones). Focusing only on the mobile platforms means you are ignoring the rest. A balanced multi-channel approach ensures you can still communicate with the other 99%.

Print media, in particular, is already providing a boost to mobile technology. Mobile barcodes allow consumers to easily interact based on their location and surroundings. The cost for marketers to use those barcodes is negligible while offering another metric to track the effectiveness of the campaign.

Ultimately, print media is a visual queue for discovery and discovery is still a challenge for the digital realm. Aren’t you having trouble finding the “awesome” apps too?

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Ryan McAbee is a technology omnivore, blogger, and a total communications advocate who also happens to work in technical pre-sales. You can find more of his perspectives at M-bossed.com or in bite-sized snacks on Twitter under @mbossed.

To work with PrintMediaCentr on your event please email deborah@printmediacentr.com

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