Tablet Nation

Tom Butts is Editor-in-Chief of TV Technology.

By now we all know that the profit margin for HDTVs, particularly for the largest consumer electronics manufacturers, has fallen off the cliff; witness Sony's announcement last month that it was laying off 10,000 employees in an attempt to turn around its TV business, to which it is still committed.

But nobody doubts the public's appetite for television. Surveys consistently show HDTVs at the top of the list for future consumer purchases. According to a recent survey from ABI Research on future electronic purchases, 25 percent of consumers said they planned on purchasing a new set within the next several months.

But there was another item on that wish list of consumer electronics that deserved notice, if nothing else, but for the incredible speed in which it has ingratiated itself into the digital media marketplace: the tablet, which was fourth, after smartphones, gaming consoles and Blu-ray players. Scarcely two years after the introduction of the iPad, the tablet looks like it could displace the DVD as the fastest-growing consumer electronics device of all time. (According to IDC, about 68.7 million tablets shipped worldwide last year, with approximately 106.1 million units expected to ship in 2012.)

For now, the tablet is not about to replace the HDTV, but rather serve as a supplement, or "second screen" as pundits prefer to call it. Last month, Viacom released a study "Tapping into Tabletomics" that surveyed more than 2,500 people ages 8–54 about the characteristics of their tablet use. Tablets are now the second-most used device for full-length TV show viewing, at 15 percent, replacing computers and smartphones.

Some of the other results are not too surprising: The most aggressive tablet users who consume video on their device are also heavy Netflix/OTTP customers, as well as broadband subscribers. The majority like to use the tablets to multitask while watching programs on their HDTV sets; young adults 18–24 are the heaviest consumers of video and gaming on their tablets; 85 percent of tablet use is for personal reasons vs. business.

And then there's social networking, of which the tablet is prime territory. Viacom noted that in their survey, many respondents use tablets for a complementary experience via apps like MTV's "WatchWith" or VH1's "Co-Star," designed as add-ons, rather than distractions to the TV screen. "Our audiences are some of the most deeply engaged and active across social platforms," said a Viacom exec.

Despite the growing popularity of the devices, the HDTV set still has a bright future, as the industry looks to next-generation 4K and OLED. After all, it seems quite ironic that the tablet (of which Viacom's survey said is used 77 percent of the time alone), is seen as a "social" media platform, when in reality, that giant HDTV screen in your living room is really the most "social" screen of all.

A recent article in the Washington Post about viewers' changing TV habits perhaps summed it up best: "It's still a great experience to sit with friends in front of the TV with takeout and just hang out together. That doesn't change."

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.