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The Rise of the Second Screen and the Future of Television
Tablets and mobile devices are playing a central role in the age-old battle to own the consumer, but technical and behavioural challenges remain.

Second-screen viewing is the next big thing, and even die-hard broadcast TV advocates are having to take note. In the U.K., commercial TV marketing body Thinkbox registered viewing figures on non-TV set devices for the first time. It found that in 2012, viewers watched an average of 3 minutes a day of TV -- mostly on-demand but some live streams -- on tablets, smartphones, and laptops via established services such as ITV Player, Sky Go, 4oD, and BBC iPlayer. That may not sound like much, particularly when set against other more net-centric research stats that emphasise the rapid growth of online video, but Thinkbox doesn’t try to shield potential TV advertisers from the prevailing wind blowing over the top. Indeed, it suggests that second screening has enhanced, rather than cannibalised, viewing on the main living room set.

More pertinently, Thinkbox and COG Research revealed in February that use of second screens kept viewers engaged while ads were showing, rather than channel surfing, searching the electronic program guide (EPG), or going out for refreshment.

Viewers reported feeling liberated by being able to engage with tablets, PCs, or smartphones while watching scheduled, on-demand, or catch-up material on the big screen. They also were open to advertising, even if just by subliminally absorbing spot commercials while the ads were showing.

With the open internet only a click away, the key requirement for a public broadcaster is providing content to as wide an audience as possible. For commercial broadcasters, new revenue streams through advertising or paid-for, on-demand content are rising to the top. From a service provider’s perspective, the second screen could present a value-add feature and/or additional revenue stream to the linear TV package.

Let’s not forget, though, that broadcasters have traditionally felt threatened by the possibility of viewers switching from the living room TV to finding news and entertainment on mobiles and tablets. Co-opting the second screen as a mainstream experience for themselves is a considerable achievement -- but the market is still in experimental phase.

Carl Hibbert, head of broadcast, Futuresource Consulting Ltd., says: “Service providers will try to continue engaging subscribers on the second screen by simple things like accessing social networking through their own apps (an app within an app), therefore being able to control advertising, the look and feel of the app and also be able to continue engagement with the subscriber for promotion of new content and services.

“Keeping viewers within a service provider created environment is nothing new,” notes Hibbert. “Pay TV operators have been maintaining the EPG for years.”

Broadcaster Integration

Until now, most companion experiences have been along the lines of talent shows or quizzes, but broadcasters are beginning to adopt second screening for channel-wide application.

“There is clear interest among broadcasters who have noted the success of format-specific apps and would like to now drive engagement around all of their programming and channels, and to do it theoretically as often as people are viewing TV,” asserts Civolution CEO Alex Terpstra.

TV content today must be developed with second screen content and interactivity in mind, says Alex Terpstra, CEO of Civolution, whose SyncNow technology offers social interaction, advertising, and information to viewers on tablets and smartphones.

NBCUniversal-owned Syfy, for example, is the first U.K. broadcaster to launch a channel-wide second-screen app, after the success of the original in the U.S., where it has been downloaded 200,000 times in support of series such as Being Human.

“If you are developing a TV format or series without any notion of second screen you are already in a danger zone,” says Terpstra. “You cannot afford not to address the opportunities that already exist.”

The synchronisation of programming with a second screen app is seen by network operators as a useful retention tool. Guy Hirson, VP technology at middleware developer Oregan Networks, Ltd. explains: “In the sense of collecting real-time viewing data, synchronisation provides the potential for an enhanced interaction between the operator supplied STB hardware and the companion screen.

“The operator is not only able to provide user-specific interactions (e.g., much more accurately targeted advertising and viewing recommendations) on TV, but also enhance the pairing operation of the STB and the companion device. This provides a USP that may help to retain customers, but also brings about a harder tie between the companion device/app and the STB.”

Driven by the increased level of sophistication of mobile devices and the commercial impetus for service operators to build closer relationships with subscribers, users are discovering the added benefits of controlling their TV service remotely, be it through remote recording capabilities, a quick check of the programme guide on-the-go, or, indeed, a preview of newly released content. Companion-style applications used in conjunction with live and on-demand viewing aid in content search and discovery.

“The design of the companion app will be dependent on content,” suggests Hibbert. “Is it a channel app or relating to one specific programme? Both have very different priorities, the former being to support the linear experience and the latter focused on enhancing the programme, creating a revenue stream and/ or extending the life of the programme beyond the scheduled TV slot.”

Primacy of Social Discovery

“Content discovery is a crucial element in the new domain of content everywhere on everything,” Hibbert adds. “The provision of easy-to-use intelligent recommendation and search will become increasingly important.”

Tom McDonnell, co-founder of second-screen app developer Monterosa Productions Ltd., questions whether social TV interaction needs to involve an established social network or whether the broadcaster can create an experience dedicated to its own audience.

App developer Monterosa created this second screen game app for the BBC’s wildly popular Top Gear.

“If service providers want to monetise a second screen audience they must remain in control of the digital environment and actively create something special and meaningful that’s accessible instantly by the majority of their audience,” he advises. “It’s dangerous to assume everyone uses a specific social network, or that they want to expose their actions to their friends.”

Monterosa’s Top Gear Bingo (launched in February with BBC Worldwide Ltd.) is mainly a promotional “event” online and on the mobile web. It takes place during new transmissions of the show, and it’s intended to create an immersive interaction with a variety of advertising opportunities for sponsors.

Speaking to Cable & Satellite International (CSI), McDonnell explained: “Facebook and Twitter usage are both optional, so we’re not alienating people who want to play on their own. Despite high levels of multi-tasking, TV audiences are rarely where you want them at the time you want them on the second screen. If they happen to be connected while watching TV, they’re distracted.”

For McDonnell, the solution is simple: “TV has all the attention, so if the broadcaster promotes something cool on the second screen during airtime, it will get high levels of adoption. If you don’t use TV to promote the second screen, you will get low adoption. This is why broadcasters, not independent app-builders, will win the battle for the second screen. The majority of people are still sitting there watching TV and they need pushing, reminding, coercing into getting interactive on their device.”

But if a fresh study of users in the U.S. is anything to go by, then second screening needs some refinement before it becomes a surefire means of keeping viewers within an operator’s or broadcaster’s environment, let alone a substantial monetisable opportunity.

The NPD Group, Inc. found that multitasking viewers are less willing to use their second devices to interact directly with applications designed specifically for the TV programmes they are watching. Those that did interacted mostly by visiting IMDb, Wikipedia, and social networks.

“Viewers are interested in searching to find further information about TV shows they are watching, but they are not using games and other immersive applications created as a component of the programming,” reported analyst Russ Crupnick. “This situation creates a potential diversion from advertising, and it will take a combined effort from content owners, advertisers, broadcasters, and others to present an aligned second-screen experience that will appeal to viewers.”

Disappointing second-screen engagement can be attributed to some fundamental flaws in the consumer experience such as having to download a number of apps or having to invoke and launch an app while watching a show.

Tom Cape, who runs app developer Capablue, says, “People will start at programme level because it’s easy to bite off. Once you’ve built up a portfolio of these you can start to aggregate this into a channel-wide app, then a top-level app across multiple channels. My fear is that if you try to go straight to a bigger cross-channel app too soon, you end up doing an EPG with some programme information which is not that interesting.”

The issue may be less acute in Europe than in the U.S., where a myriad of third-party social TV apps compete: GetGlue, Viggle, and Miso are among them.

“It’s important not to roll out the second-screen experience too quickly, especially advertising,” says Michael Woodley, business development consultant at ACR developer Intrasonics Ltd. “It needs to start by educating and informing. We will put audiences off if we throw in too many ads too soon.”

Second screen apps ideally need to respond to where the user actually is. An in-home companion service should be closely linked with the TV while an out-of-home scenario using the same app promotes the ability to remotely plan, record, and stream VoD.

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