Is mobile now the 'first screen'?

In today's multiscreen world, has mobile become the most important medium for consumers, Louise Ridley asks.

Our lives are lived through multiple screens. But do they really jostle for position? Research from Weve last week found that 46 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds considered mobile to be their "first screen", in front of PCs or laptops (chosen by 30.6 per cent) and well ahead of TV (12.4 per cent).

The findings from the organisation set up to galvanise the mobile marketing power of Vodafone, O2 and EE are certainly loaded. The implication is that "first screen" means most important and therefore most valuable. If you have the eyeballs and the attention, then surely advertising spend should follow, right?

David Sear, the chief ex­ecutive of Weve, believes the research underlines the changing relationship that consumers now have with their mobile devices. The ambition is plain for all to see. "We’re delivering broadcast-scale audiences," he said.

Smartphone penetration in the UK is continuing to climb, with more than half of the population expected to own an internet-enabled handset in 2014, according to eMarketer. Penetration is, unsurprisingly, highest among 18- to 24-year-olds. Mobile adspend in the UK grew by 127 per cent in the first half of the year to £429 million, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau.

But can you really put screens in order? If so, it’s worth remembering that many of us still sit in front of desktop computers for eight hours a day, five days a week. This was echoed in the Weve survey, which found that, across the entire 18-55 age group, a PC or laptop was seen as the "first screen", with 39.8 per cent. Smartphones for this broader demographic were placed first for just 28 per cent of respondents.

People in the UK watched around four hours a day of linear broadcast television in the first half of 2013, a figure that is stable year on year, according to the medium’s marketing body Thinkbox. Those in the TV business also note that the experience of watching traditional television, and the state of mind when doing so, is entirely different to that when using a mobile.

So, is mobile really the "first screen"?