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What if TVs became replaced as the screen of choice for Americans?

“Second Screening” has increasingly become a common phrase in certain circles this year, as more and more people start splitting their attention between watching television and other entertainment, most commonly in the form of a tablet or mobile device (It’s possible that you heard it – or, more likely, read it – in coverage of the recent US Presidential Election, where much was made of a section of the audience following the various debates on television at the same time as tracking online discussion of it on social media). But in almost all discussion of the phenomenon, one idea was considered a constant: That television would be the “first screen.” What happens if that changes, however…?

That is a possibility raised by the chief economist and senior director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association, Shawn DuBravac, who responded to early reports of high sales for mobile and tablet devices on Black Friday by wondering aloud “What If…?” Initial reports of the CEA’s Black Friday survey suggest that 47 percent of shoppers bought electronics as they recovered from Thanksgiving dinner the night before, with 26 percent buying a smartphone, and 22 percent going for a tablet device. With around 31 percent of American households now believed to have at least one tablet device, DuBravac speculated “It would not surprise me if half of U.S. households own tablets by the beginning of 2013.”

He continued by saying that, “for a lot of folks, second screen is about being second to TV. I think we can see that start to reverse, especially when you start to talk about 50-60 percent of U.S. households having tablets. Consumers might be starting with a tablet and going to TV. That could affect how content creators distribute their content and the type of stories that they tell.”

Such a scenario would doubtless be problematic for broadcasters, but it’d be interesting to see how producers could handle the switch; after all, tablet users already have multiple ways of accessing programming, whether channel-specific apps, iTunes or Amazon purchases and downloads, or streaming through Hulu, Netflix or Amazon or whatever. What might be more interesting, and less likely to predict, is the second part of DeBravac’s suggestion, about the “type of stories that [programmers] tell.” We’re perhaps seeing a sign of this in the form of Syfy’s attempt to create a transmedia property from scratch with the upcoming Defiance, a narrative that can be approached simultaneously from two different directions (As a traditional television series or as a MMO role playing game) depending on viewer/user preference. If television loses its dominance as the primary screen for the majority of Americans, might we see a television industry that starts looking at other ways in which to expand its universe and bring viewers into the fold?

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