LONDON/NEW YORK: Marketers grappling with the fragmentation of audiences across a multitude of channels could be saved by the emergence within the next five years of an app ecosystem featuring perhaps 50 dominant apps that permit media planning and buying at scale.

Rob Norman, chief digital officer at GroupM, the media investment business, outlines this thesis in the current issue of Admap, arguing that apps will succeed channels and websites as the principal gateway to screen time.

Apps are everywhere, are simple to use, are optimised at the device level and are bandwidth-efficient, he notes: "the presence of apps on limited screen real estate may be the battleground to dominate in the second half of this decade and beyond".

And just as people only use maybe 20 of the 500 TV channels available to them, so they will end up with perhaps 50 apps that will account for around 80% of aggregate screen on connected devices.

Already some apps are near universal – writing from a US perspective, Norman cites Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google Maps, LinkedIn, Messenger, Twitter and Amazon – while others are in "massive distribution", including Walmart and Target in retail, Netflix and Hulu in streaming video.

A range of media apps and service apps from banks, retailers, hotels and transport will round out the list of apps that everyone will know and use, he suggests.

"If media space is truly to become shelf space, then these are the shelves to occupy," Norman says.

"Further, as media space becomes shelf space, the very notion of the purchase funnel is disrupted as almost any contact can result in an instant transaction."

That implies a reversal of 30 years of multichannel fragmentation and 15 years of web-driven atomisation.

The development of such an app ecosystem also has major implications for search. "As desktop usage declines, so do brand websites; as trust and familiarity increase, the desire to compare falls … The key now is asset creation".

Data sourced from Admap