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McAdams On: Plateaus and Counter Trends

There is a conspicuous phenomenon in all things consumptive being ignored in the world of media—the plateau. The race to place TV everywhere is so breathless that the industry seems to be forgetting there are only so many eyeballs and hours in a day.

Granted, there were incremental increases in the early multiscreen metrics, which only makes sense, because more screens were measured. When out-of-home viewing consisted of TV everywhere else—airports, bars, airline seats, buses, gas pumps, etc.—it was roughly estimated. Advertisers said, “what-ever.” Now, there’s a chance for the TV biz to win back a little leverage as measurement methods catch up with the market. Increased usage initially will be detected, spawning market analyses predicting $120 bazillion in multiscreen delivery by 2016 based in part on a supervirus causing people to sprout spare heads.

Every ecosystem we consider—be it media, the economy or spectrum—relies on human behavior, which is finite, and functions like a sine wave. E.g., Hash jeans, Palm Pilots, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” hats, shag carpet, Virginia Slims, interlaced video. The variation becomes constant long-term, but we don’t do long-term these days. We do now, not in the Zen sense, but in the immediate-gratification sense. And it gratifies us to think that growth curves that serve us will last and last and last and last.

They won’t.

Whatever increased usage is indicated in the early multiscreen metrics should be taken with a grain of salt. Much more may be spent on attorneys negotiating rights and fights among networks and Aereo, Dish, et al, than is to be made from mobile TV, which so far has been met with general indifference.

Even if it becomes a big deal for a while, history shows us that something else will get our attention.

That’s how we roll.