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Insights is a weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at [email protected], or on Twitter @DavidBloom.


It’s that time of year. Mary Meeker puts out her state of the Internet report, filled with a thousand little brain bombs, then Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference rolls out a batch of intriguing hardware and software goodies. In both, we see hints of where we’re headed with tech and the entertainment that tech now brings us.

And darned if mobile doesn’t look like it’s hitting important inflection points this year, shifting how we entertain ourselves, and how content is being paid for. There’s lots of money still left in traditional media, and lots more on the desktop PC, but long-arriving shifts toward mobile are finally here.

Consider these data points from Meeker’s mammoth 355-page presentation:

  • About 3.4 billion people, roughly half the world’s population, now use the Internet.
  • Around 2.8 billion people have smartphones.
  • U.S. adults now spend an average 5.6 hours a day watching digital media. More than half that time, 3.1 hours, is spent watching on their phones.
  • U.S. Internet advertising is expected to hit $73 billion this year. For the first time, more than half of it will be spent on mobile.
  • Global spending on internet advertising is expected to pass TV ad spending for the first time this year.
  • Advertisers still spend a much smaller share of ad dollars on mobile compared to the time that audiences spend there. Meeker calls this gap between time spent and money spent a “$16 billion opportunity.”
  • Facebook and Google still dominate Internet ad spending and growth. But “others” can look forward to 9% growth in ad revenue, to around $23 billion.

And you can take a look for yourself right here:

Meanwhile, at the WWDC, Apple made a lot of announcements about its vastly profitable iPhones, iPads, iOS mobile operating system and voice-activated capabilities that use its Siri digital assistant and artificial intelligence capabilities.

For all that, the biggest new thing was its Home Pod, a planned high-end competitor to Sonos wireless speakers and the Amazon Echo digital assistant. The Home Pod features an array of speakers, built-in microphones, a capable processor, and an Internet connection.

The Echo relies on a really smart microphone to listen to commands you may lob its way (like, “Alexa, buy more stuff from Amazon”). What’s key here is the voice activation and artificial intelligence capabilities, which the Google Home device also largely shares. Voice activation is getting increasingly accurate and responsive, but just wait until they can more reliably navigate through all your video programming with smart assisted search and queueing of your favorites across many services, wherever you are.

Already, Meeker points out, we’ve seen voice-activated queries on mobile rise quickly, to 20% for the Google assistant, and at increasing competence (Google claims their service is now 95% accurate, officially Pretty Damned Good).

Voice activation is just easier, a next step away from clunky input devices like keyboards and mice. Siri, by most accounts, isn’t as good as its competitors at figuring out your voice commands, in part because Apple is much less invasive than Google or Amazon in cataloging and targeting our information.

That said, the world’s most valuable company should have no issues catching up, should it choose to crack open its vast piggybank of cash reserves. And it’s no coincidence that Apple’s first-ever series – Planet of the Apps, an unscripted show about mobile-app makers featuring digital notables Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Will.I.Am, and Gary Vaynerchuk – debuted last week.

These devices, paired with Siri and potentially third-party apps that can now incorporate Siri into their operations, will control and extend your media-consumption experience in ever more powerful ways. Expect Google and Amazon to keep pace, more or less, depending on their own corporate areas of focus.

As it is, we’re already seeing lots of interesting mobile apps looking to improve the process of entertaining ourselves. As examples, I think about my recent sit-downs with the CEOs of two very different video-oriented mobile apps, Rheo and TV Time.

TV Time works as an electronic programming guide for 60,000 traditional TV shows worldwide and as a safe space for online conversations about only the show episodes you’ve actually watched. Rheo, by contrast, curates several categories of short video from many kinds of sources, all grouped based on different moods.

For all their differences, both apps are solving problems that have cropped up as we wade through the vast oceans of content out there.

TV Time is focused on the $30 billion worth of traditional TV programming created globally each year, explained CEO Richard Rosenblatt. “In a market this big and changing this fast, we’re going to be 100% focused on TV,” said Rosenblatt. “We’re not going to be a general social-media app. We’re a utility app that has social-media features.”

TV Time is built on the marriage of two apps, one of which was WhipClip, which Rosenblatt launched a couple of years ago using licensed clips from dozens of network shows so its users could create GIFs and memes about their favorite programs. But Rosenblatt, so ahead of the digital curve when he headed the parent company of MySpace and later as CEO of Demand Media, miscalculated consumer interest in his latest venture. So he went hunting for some new DNA to transform WhipClip into a service for what TV fans want now.

“What we were wrong about is people didn’t want to make clips themselves,” Rosenblatt acknowledges. “The market changed and we saw the chaos and went looking through dozens of apps.”

The result launched recently. Thanks to its forebears, TV Time already has about 2 million users, spread across the globe and evenly split between the app’s iOS and Android versions. Stars of two popular shows, Vikings and Orange is the New Black, post regularly, and if those partnerships work out, TV Time will add more.

The app also hosts 24 podcasts about some of its most popular shows. And once a fan has marked an episode as watched, they can post, rate and share their own comments, GIFs, and memes about the program.

Rheo CEO Alan Cannistraro, a former Facebook and Apple product guy, said his app, which also runs on Apple TV,  is more about curating cool content and grouping it in logical ways that can appeal to the different moods a user might have throughout their day or week.

I’ll be interested to see how much people are ready for a lean-back experience with short content on their mobile device (Apple TV seems a more natural setting).

I think he’s right to expect that as more of us rely on mobile devices for entertainment, we’ll find new ways to enjoy video in a less-demanding setting. That experience will benefit hugely from voice-activated tools, artificial intelligence that knows what we like, sensors that know where we are and newly empowered additional devices to expand our viewing options.

As our reliance on mobile increasingly dominates how we view content, and ad spending arrives to help finance it all, these tools of the new world could be well positioned to thrive.

Amen to that.

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