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A toddler’s view of the future of media

“Consumers will increasingly expect to find their favorite media brands on new devices and platforms.”

To get a sense of how we will consume news, information and entertainment in the future, I only need to look at my son Jack, age two and a half. While my wife and I do our best to limit his screen time and steer him towards offline pursuits like jigsaw puzzles and coloring, he already has favorite shows, apps, and digital activities.

etan-horowitzThere are three things that describe the way Jack likes and expects to consume media: on-demand, personalized, and available seamlessly on any screen.

If Jack wants to watch the PBS show Curious George, he can watch it on cable on-demand, on Amazon Instant, on Netflix, on YouTube, or on iTunes. And he can watch it on any of these platforms on our TVs, computers, phones, tablets, or through devices that connect to our TV like Apple TV or Google’s Chromecast. And because we watch on all these services, when we pull one up, we never have to hunt around for what we want — because all of our favorites are right there in our digital library, watchlist, instant queue, or viewing history. The Curious George brand also extends to thousands of other products and platforms, like the Curious About Shapes and Colors app, one of Jack’s favorites.

This on-demand, personalized, and any-screen experience also extends to communication. If he wants to have a video chat with his grandparents in Philadelphia or Boston, we can do it via Skype or FaceTime, on our TV, computer, or tablet. And if we’re not home, we can do the same on our phones.

To prepare for consumers like Jack who expect to access personalized news, information, and entertainment instantly on any screen, here are two predictions for 2014.

  • More personalized mobile alerts: The mobile app alert is perhaps the most intimate of all forms of news delivery, as information is sent directly to your pocket regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Since it is so personal, consumers only want to receive alerts that are relevant to them. Sports apps like ESPN’s ScoreCenter and Bleacher Report’s Team Stream have been doing this for a while, but in 2013 we saw news organizations including NBC’s Breaking News and ABC introduce some form of personalized mobile app alerts. We also saw the growth of startup Circa, whose entire mission is built around personalized alerts and news. Expect to see many more news organizations allow their users to personalize the mobile alerts they receive in 2014.
  • Favorite content in unfamiliar places: For the past few years, we’ve found our favorite media brands in a few familiar places — newspapers in print, online, and mobile, or TV stations on TV, online, mobile. But just like Jack expecting to find the Pixar movie Cars on whatever device or screen is in front of him, consumers will increasingly expect to find their favorite media brands on new devices and platforms. And they will expect to be able to watch their favorite programming both live and on demand.

    The biggest place this trend played out in 2013 was on Apple’s Apple TV set top box. Apple TV has always had a few news and entertainment channels, but they ramped up their offerings dramatically this year with the addition of HBO GO, WatchESPN, SkyNews, Watch ABC, Bloomberg, PBS, Disney, the Weather Channel, and more. Some of these channels, such as HBO GO, require consumers to have a cable subscription to watch shows and movies, while others allow users to watch without a cable subscription. And many allow consumers to create watch lists or favorites so they can immediately access personalized lists of programming.

    This trend also accelerated in 2013 with the introduction of an inexpensive Apple TV competitor from Google called Chromecast. While its content offerings pale in comparison to Apple TV, they are growing and there’s even a Chromecast channel from an old media brand — PostTV from The Washington Post. And don’t forget the Roku box, which boasts that it has “more news than any other streaming player.”

    In 2014, we will see more news organizations making their content available on devices such as Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku and we will also likely see news content starting to pop up in wearables like smartwatches and perhaps even smart appliances. The result will be that when consumers want to watch the latest show from CNN and or read a favorite columnist, they’ll just have to reach for whatever Internet connected device is nearest to them.

Etan Horowitz is the mobile editor at CNN.

Updating regularly through Friday, December 20