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In a Multi-Screen World, What is the True Value of Each Device?

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Today's digital consumers seem to transition routinely between computers, smartphones and tablets. We wondered about the importance of each device to the overall multi-screen experience, and the extent to which that experience varies, depending on the user or the content type.

In "3D: Multi-Dimensional Multi-Platform," a study conducted by AOL and InsightsNow, we asked over 2,500 multi-device users to view content in different screen combinations. Of those who viewed their favorite content on only one of the three screens, 45% said they would visit it regularly, compared to 60% who saw it on two screens and 67% who saw it on all three.

The behavior of multi-screen consumers represents a major opportunity for marketers: viewing content on multiple devices actually improves a user's intent to visit regularly.

But how much does each screen contribute to the total experience? To identify the value of each screen, we applied Shapley analysis, a mathematical solution we borrowed from Game Theory. The formula answers the question, "Would individuals be better off working together than they are on their own?" Furthermore, it provides a numerical answer to define precisely how much each individual contributor brings to the table.

The Shapley analysis computes a value for each device based on the result it produces on its own and in every possible combination with the others. In this case, the top-box survey response for intent to visit was the key performance metric.

Overall, we found the computer contributes the most toward positive visit intent, with a Shapley Value of 0.28-- twice the smartphone's score of 0.14. Tablet earned a close second place to computers, with a score of 0.24. Normalizing the scores to 100%, computers contribute 42% of the total visit intent, tablets contribute 36%, and smartphones contribute 22%, a positive value toward the experience of consuming online content.

This application of Shapley Values was quite original. The technique is typically used to inform decisions such as choosing product variants or flavors to stock and sell in order to drive maximum total revenue. Marketers rely on it because it takes into account the complexity of real-life situations in which the optimal solution is not always available.

While it had not been used this way until now, Shapley is an ideal approach, as the research also showed us that device selection is more spontaneous and accidental than it is deliberate or intentional. Consumers are transitioning between devices in a chaotic manner, and marketers and content creators need to be ready to meet them across screens.


The relative value of each device varied based on the audience and the content type:

Tablets contribute considerably more toward intent to visit among Adults 35+
In contrast, Millennials (18-34) did not derive as much value from tablets. Their experience on smartphones indicates the high value they place on portability and connectivity.
Tablet values exceeded computer values for consumers viewing Tech content (e.g. Engadget, TechCrunch, CNET) and Entertainment content (e.g. Hulu, TMZ).
Cooking/Food content (e.g. Epicurious, Food Network, KitchenDaily) was equally valued across screens, likely because consumers value the ability to bring this information into the kitchen or the grocery store.
Multi-tasking is prevalent across all devices, but particularly when consumers are watching TV. 90% use another device simultaneously while watching TV.

AOL Consumer Analytics & Research has committed to developing ground-breaking research about how people use smartphones (here and here) and tablets (here and here), including prior work with InsightsNow on the award-winning 7-Shades of Mobile.

"3D: Multi-Dimensional Multi-Platform" builds on that track record of innovation and insight, applying a multidisciplinary approach to understanding how people respond to content and advertising as they transition among their devices:

First we observed multi-device owners for a week as they normally use their devices, subjecting them to a one-day deprivation exercise where they could not use their favorite device so that we could observe any compensating behaviors.
Then we conducted a survey of 2,500 multi-device users representative of the US online population. The experiential survey design considered six genres of content and three categories of advertising, rendered in single and multi-screen experiences.
Shapley's analysis was used to take into account every possible scenario of multi-screen use by category (each individually, smartphone plus tablet, smartphone plus computer, tablet plus computer, and all three together).
The analytic approach we selected, Shapley Analysis, is named for the 20th century Nobel-prize winning economist Lloyd Shapley. His formula determines the marginal utility of each individual in a coalition by calculating the value of the potential coalitions that include that individual compared to those that don't include it.

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