For nearly 70 years the classic media mix of television, radio, print, direct mail and outdoor boards reigned supreme as the primary options for advertisers to communicate with and engage potential customers. While the Internet has been with us for nearly twenty of those years, for many advertisers, particularly at the local level, the Internet and digital media has been an afterthought or, even more likely, a sort of ‘black box’ where the return and the role of digital media is ambiguous or unclear.

At a certain point a trend becomes the new normal. With digital media usage, the shifting trends in media used by adults seems to indicate that we have passed a tipping point where digital media can no longer be considered an afterthought or option. The reason is probably right in front of you – or in your pocket or handbag: it’s the smartphone (and the tablet).

The chart below from eMarketer, demonstrates the rapid growth of digital media as the share of time that adults spend with all media. As the chart demonstrates, digital media has grown significantly to about 47% of the time that adults spend with all media.


The chart clearly reveals that the growth in digital is coming from mobile usage; from a scant 3.7% of adult media time just five years ago up to nearly a quarter of all time (23.3%) in 2014. In retrospect, its easy to see how these devices have become ubiquitous and used for all sorts of purposes that were historically the domain of magazines (looking up recipes), TV (watching video), radio (streaming music) and desktop computers (checking email or social media); whatever the activity – utilitarian or entertainment, our mobile devices now account for more media time than the average adults spends with their desktop computer, and much more than the time spend with radio, newspaper and print combined. Only television remains dominant, although it has lost some of its share to viewing on tablets and mobile devices as well.

I’m personally curious if we’ve reached a plateau – really, how much time can you spend on a smartphone watching video – particularly if you have the option to watch on a full-size screen? Perhaps it has plateaued with millennials who were already well ahead of other demographic groups, but there is still a lot of growth for increased mobile (and other digital) use in generations over 35-so…. no; I don’t think we’ve seen this trend plateau or reach its full potential just yet.

And what that means is that we, as marketers, advertisers, and business people, need to be aware of this shift and if we don’t understand it, its important to surround yourself with people who do. I’ve met dozens of local advertisers where the owner identified an existing employee or manager who volunteered to run their social media or manage their website, and take on some or all of the vast array of tasks associated with building and managing their company’s digital presence. That’s a great start. Its likely these sort of investments will help you to uncover new possibilities for how you engage with your customers, and attract new customers. Or, you may need to call on a professional services firm who has the experience and knowledge to help you prioritize the right digital priorities.

One thing is certain, times are changing, and we all need to understand how to adapt and survive (and grow!) or be prepared to be left out of the biggest shift in media consumption in seventy years!