According to comScore, the majority of digital media consumption in the US now takes place on mobile devices. eMarketer estimates global smartphone adoption will surpass 2 billion people by 2016. This means the same trend will certainly soon spread to many other countries around the world.

This poses both dramatic challenges and opportunities for the content community. It’s still not clear whether this is a good or a bad thing. And that’s also concerning. Let’s first look at why it might be a good thing.

The rise of mobile devices and mobile media consumption is likely to only increase the public’s appetite for quality content. Audiences will fill what was previously underutilized pockets of time with news and entertainment. And this is a boon for publishers because they can now engage audiences where they previously could not. But not everyone will prevail.

Some will win, some will lose

The winners arguably will be those who embrace a mix of new and established formats. Consider NPR, for example, which late last year reached new audiences with Serial, its breakout podcast hit. Serial averaged 1.5 million listeners per episode and racked up millions of downloads. Podcasts are hardly a new idea. Then again, neither is NPR. However, when the two are combined with great storytelling, it’s the perfect medium for a burgeoning audience of smartphone users who are hungry for content. It’s the perfect example of how mobile can create new value for content creators and content consumers.

But the picture is far from rosy. The supply of content is infinite. Yet time and attention is a finite resource. And brand won’t be enough to win. The reality is that content discovery is a huge challenge for creators and consumers alike. Despite the rising popularity of large-screen handhelds, there’s only so much room on a home screen for people to put what matters to them most front and centre.

How content reaches an audience

Two recent projects bring this to bear. First, comScore’s US Mobile App Report revealed that most people download zero apps per month. What’s more, time and attention seems to be concentrated with just a handful of players – notably a small constellations of apps and services powered by Facebook, Google and Pandora.

This was further illustrated by HomeScreen.is, a new project from BetaWorks that aims to identify the apps that have the greatest footprint across device home screens. Although the participants tend to be more tech savvy and the data set is currently limited to iOS devices, the early findings also seem to suggest a few players are dominating. This means publishers don’t entirely control their own destiny. There’s increasingly a cake mix of algorithms that sit in between those who create content and those who will consume it, and it’s difficult to predict how these intermediates will impact mobile media discovery.

Succeeding in this brave new world

To succeed in this new era, media and entertainment industry players will need to be constantly thinking about surface area. They will need to invest in quality content and new formats as NPR did, but more importantly they will need to stay attuned to consumer behaviour and how it is being reshaped daily by algorithms.

Although this may seem like a small fraction of the total consumption right now, as smartphones and soon wearables become ubiquitous, it has the opportunity to create a highly dynamic media marketplace that, while open and opportunistic, is also equally unpredictable and influenced by a few players.

The outcomes could change daily. However, what’s clear is the home screen is now the new home page. And it’s where the next battles will be fought, won and lost.

Author: Steve Rubel, Chief Content Strategist, Edelman. He is a contributor to the World Economic Forum’s Norms and Values in Digital Media project, whose new report is now live.

Image: A man watches television on his mobile phone while commuting on a train in Tokyo July 10, 2009. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao