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Is Media Multi-Tasking a Good Thing, or a Distraction? It Depends….

April 8th, 2010

I am fascinated by media multi-tasking: the ability to consume multiple media concurrently.   But, do we really understand this phenomenon?  Is multi-tasking a good thing, or a distraction?  I believe it depends.  Which, leads me to wonder if we should create two separate terms:

* Multi-Tasking:  the art of doing several things at once.  Meaning, I am not fully engaged in any one task.  My attention is divided, and chances are I am only receiving bits and pieces of content from any single source.

*Multi-Plexing:  the desire to experience a body of content across multiple channels, concurrently.  In this instance, I am deeply engaged and I seek out additional media channels to enhance my overall experience.  

While I multi-task in both ways,  my multi-tasking is increasingly becoming more of an immersive phenomenon.  Two recent examples come to mind:

* American Idol:  I am a passionate fan of American Idol.  I try to view the shows ‘live’ (okay, I admit I start watching appx 20 minutes into the broadcast so that I can skip all the boring commercials).  But, my ‘live’ viewing also includes my laptop or my iPhone.  I connect with Facebook friends who are also Idol fans to converse in real-time as the show unfolds.  In essence, I have created a virtual ‘living room’ through these additional media devices. 

*NCAA March Madness:  It’s lonely being an MSU Spartan in my North Shore Chicago household.  But, thanks to, I was able to connect to other MSU fans live and follow the chatter while watching the game.  All of a sudden, my lonely living room became transformed into a Spartan Sports Bar! 

These two experiences point to an important theme: the idea of  multi-plexing as a means of compensating for the individual nature of media consumption, today.  Our desire is still to seek out and be a part of social, communal experiences.  Television viewing used to be a multi-person phenomenon.  Hence, the Nielsen term VPVH (viewers per viewing household) used to define the composition of viewers in the living room.  What I describe above is a desire to create a VPVH once again.  Except in this current scenario, the social network experience becomes the VPVH. 

Why is this so important?  As marketers, we need to understand the interplay between media in creating a more holistic experience for ‘fans’.   If people are using multiple  media concurrently to enhance a single experience, our messages across multiple media platforms should also reinforce a single experience.  This has profound implications for how we build commercial content.  Currently, we create messaging for each medium in isolation.  What if the messages worked more like Transmedia Stories (Source: Henry Jenkins Convergence Culture)?  In essence, each message, while still making sense on its own,  would also provide a deeper experience.  This assumes that brand messaging can evolve from ‘ads’ to ‘stories’.  A topic for another day…


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