Multiplatform Content Comes of Age

The avalanche of new connected devices, including tablets, smartphones, and applications that blur the lines between the two, are paving the way for 2011 to be the year of multiplatform content creation and delivery.

The advance of hardware and software products by providers including Google and Apple to leverage the three screens-mobile, TV, and internet-has whet consumers' appetites for new and connected experiences that deliver us content across time, place, and platforms.

Indeed, 2011 is shaping up to be the year for multiscreen content services and, more importantly, for multipurpose applications and solutions that allow consumers to call the shots.

However, the real story is not how we consume media: It's the advance of applications and business models sharply aimed at bringing control (of the content) and content to smartphones and tablets. In fact, in the last few months media companies and content providers released applications for iPhone, Android, and iPad platforms. We've also seen a wave of place-shifting products enter the mobile space. Connect the dots and-after a decade of writing about it-content convergence has truly arrived.

However, these apps and enhancements don't just encourage consumers to consume more content (in many cases outside traditional airing times and places); they turn up the pressure on content companies to deliver content users appreciate to the platforms and devices they prefer.

Part of the solution is simpler interfaces and easier access. However, consumers also expect more flexibility, greater convenience, and less hassle. In this converged digital environment, companies are forced to compete on how well they really know their customers, insights they obtain by harnessing information and data about their customers across multiple touch points.

This is where personalization makes a critical comeback. Many content companies are accustomed to following the clues we leave behind, such as browsing patterns and purchase records, to determine (and deliver) content and services users are likely to appreciate. However, delivering personalized recommendations for a multiplatform experience demands that content companies master much more than content tagging and customer profiling.

Specifically, companies must build out their capabilities to enable real-time learning (following the digital breadcrumb trails we leave across platforms and devices to consistently deliver us content we'll appreciate) and device-specific recommendations (understanding what content we access on what devices and then serving us content in ways that suit the device we are on at that moment).

It is all about understanding that people access content on their own terms and using the device they prefer. A user may access content on a mobile phone during the daily commute but prefer to access content on his or her laptop if the trip is longer. Or a user may access all content on a tablet except sports news and events, which the individual watches on the living room TV as a rule. Against this backdrop, it's easy to imagine an infinite number of combinations and numerous new challenges that content companies will have to face in the year ahead.

One company arming content companies to tackle the issues ahead is Sidebar. The company provides multiplatform personalization and recommendation. In practice, Sidebar's Smart Menu platform acts as a cloud-based brain that analyzes behaviors to learn how each user consumes content differently on each of his or her devices and makes recommendations contextual to those devices. The result is a user experience that breaks down the device and platform silos, leveraging mobile, PC, and web usage to create a global understanding of each customer. It then uses this insight to deliver to each user the best recommendation for a unique situation.

But it's not only about presenting people with recommendations based on preferences, observed behaviors, and demographics. It's also about empowering people to participate in the provider's ecosystem. To this end Sidebar has cleverly harnessed simple tools such as text messaging to start and continue conversations between content companies and consumers, which provides valuable feedback that will allow content companies to better tailor their personalized recommendations.

Moving forward, allowing people to participate in their content will not only ensure that content companies deliver genuinely useful and personalized experiences; it will build trust. The importance of trust is even greater in a multiplatform environment where people are allowing providers to access their personal data and insights into what content they access on which device (information that is anonymized and cannot be linked back to a specific individual) in order to deliver relevant and useful content across three screens.

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For content jockeys, of course, it is the dream: a single information store and automated delivery to multiple platforms in numerous configurations, all at the push of a button. And it is not a new ambition--it predates the tablet and smartphone outbreak by decades. The need for smart content management and the ability to automatically generate customized outputs, then, is greater than ever. Luckily, getting there is easy. All you need is intelligent content and cross-platform code development. (Okay, maybe getting there sounds easy.)