The Second Screen Takes Center Stage

Published: 03rd May 2013
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Consumers carry mobile devices with them everywhere they go, which of course includes their living rooms. With mobile use rising consistently, the old dreams of interactive TV have begun to come true, and though screens are small, the stakes are large: A $500 million market could swell to more than $5 billion in the next five years. As consumers spend more time squinting at their small-screen devices, the entertainment business is thinking harder about how its content strategy is shaped by this powerful interactive platform

While the big-screen TV sets captured many of the headlines at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it's the small screens that will run away with the bulk of consumer dollars in 2013.

Sales generated by tablets, smartphones, laptops and notebooks are projected to make up 51.7% of the $1.1 trillion global consumer electronics business this year, up from 46.8% last year, according to the Consumer Electronics Assn., the trade group that puts on CES.

Much of that is driven by the mobile consumption of content on what the industry calls "the second screen." U.S. consumers are spending an estimated 130 minutes a day on tablets and mobile phones, compared with 170 minutes per day watching TV, according to the CEA. But while the amount of time spent with TVs has been steady for at least the past decade, time spent with second screens is rapidly rising.

Content creators are beginning to realize that much of that second-screen time is being spent while people are in front of the large screen. According to Nielsen, close to 40% of Americans use their tablets or smartphones while watching TV at least once a day, while 62% report doing so at least once a week. With more than half of Americans owning smartphones and tablets, that figure may not be surprising.

"We know that people have their smartphones or tablets with them full-time," said Guy Finley, executive director of the Second Screen Society, an interest group comprising movie and TV studios, technology companies and advertising firms. "The challenge is how to make them use it to interact with their content, and not with email, Twitter or 'Angry Birds.'"
Old-timers may recognize this effort as interactive TV, a term coined in the late '90s. That was when the show "Friends" was at the peak of its ratings and the meme repeated by nearly every interactive TV marketer was that it allowed viewers to buy the sweater that Jennifer Aniston wore on the show. Since then, the concept has gone by other names -- "transmedia" and "multiscreen" being a couple of the passing buzzwords.
The promises these movements offered have never materialized, largely because the experiences were clunky and the technology to support it wasn't ready. Viewers didn't want to interact with their TV, preferring to lean back on their couches and be entertained. Most of the interactive features disrupted the TV shows they were watching, and there were other technical snafus. Internet connections were slow. Wireless connectivity wasn't widespread. And, for content creators, the cost of creating an infrastructure to support the interactions was prohibitive.

That has changed. Connectivity is no longer an issue, with the vast majority of homes now hooked up to high-speed Internet service. The proliferation of tablets and smartphones means second-screen interactions can happen on a separate screen without disrupting the flow of content on the big TV. These interactions are happening on apps, which have flourished, thanks to an infrastructure built by large, well-funded technology giants like Apple, Amazon and Google.
In addition, a new class of technology that automatically recognizes what people are watching or listening to is allowing companies to automatically trigger additional content on a second screen without people having to dig it up themselves.
Taking advantage of these second screens requires a rethinking of content creation for both live events and episodic content, said Rob Gelick, senior VP/GM of digital platforms for CBS Interactive.
For instance, for the Grammy Awards, CBS worked with the Recording Academy to turn what once was a one-night event into a weeklong extravaganza that led up to a multiscreen experience on awards night.

Before the main event, CBS and the Academy staged behind-the-scenes videos, battle-of-the-bands social voting and red carpet live streams for secondary screens. During the event, audiences aggregated by second-screen outreach were pointed to the big screen, where CBS fed a continuous stream of companion content during the show, such as artist bios, a Grammy-branded "Words With Friends" social game and "Grammy Legends" videos. Using the Shazam app, which detected what was playing on the TV screen in real time, CBS streamed extra content to second screens relevant to what was happening live. CBS uses a similar strategy in broadcasting the Super Bowl.
The TV network is also retooling the way it creates its episodic shows, building out second-screen content during the scripting process, according to Gelick.
"Storytelling changes with the second screen," he said during the Second Screen Summit event at CES. "For 'NCIS,' our writers think about what assets they can create for the second screen."

Its CBS Connect app uses content recognition to detect what's being watched in order to push scene-by-scene extras to a second screen, direct the social conversation that already happens organically around its shows and, for live programs, conduct real-time chats and interviews with onscreen talent. Such content might include a blueprint of the crime scene, pieces of evidence that viewers can collect during the show in order to solve a whodunit or a plot synopsis from previous episodes that helps bring in new fans who otherwise pass on the program because they don't understand what's happening on the big screen.
Creators also should approach content in a less linear fashion, with the big-screen TV as the primary screen that drives engagement, CEA chief economist Shawn Dubravac said. Instead, viewers and listeners these days are just as likely to initially stumble on content on tablets and smartphones as they are by channel surfing.
"When that tablet is in my hand, it is my primary screen," Dubravac said. "Content developers will have to think strategically about the type of content they put on those devices and how they should best engage people on those devices. Because, as a user who's never engaged with that franchise before, that experience could dictate whether I will ever seek it out on my other screens." That means, for example, leaving compelling digital bread crumbs that lead people to the other screens, wherever they first discover the content, and not just content that's left on the cutting-room floor.

Right now, the expense of creating second-screen experiences is regarded as "somewhere between a marketing vehicle and a pure content experience," Gelick said of CBS.
The second-screen market is still quite small -- just $490 million in 2012, generated primarily from advertising, according to the Second Screen Society, which projects that it could swell to $5.5 billion in five years if the ecosystem remains on its current path of growth.
Other ways second-screen content can be monetized include commerce, such as event tickets; a freemium model, with micro-transactions for virtual goods similar to free-to-play games that sell extra downloadable content; and real-world merchandise, like that Jennifer Aniston sweater. There are also subscription fees for premium content. "Big Brother Live," for example, has "hundreds of thousands" of super-fans who pay $15 per month to get round-the-clock access to four webcams in the house, Gelick said.
EBay has an app called "Watch With eBay" that recommends collectible items related to the show on TV. Amazon has been experimenting with a feature on its Kindle Fire called X-ray Vision that creates a list of actors currently onscreen and provides information from the IMDB database, according to Second Screen Society chairman Chuck Parker. It's then a short step to get that viewer to the Amazon store, he said.

There are a number of significant challenges that could hamper growth, Parker added. "The biggest challenge is the user experience. The experience has to be good enough that consumers will want to use it, but not so engaging as to be distracting to the content on the primary screen."
For now, the struggle in finding the right balance is the opposite -- most second-screen apps are disappointing.
"I download a huge number of apps," said John Douglas, a product marketing manager at DG, a company that distributes about eight out of every 10 TV commercials in the United States that together generate more than 4.5 billion impressions per day. "I'm excited to check them out, but I'm constantly let down."
Another issue is scale. There simply aren't enough people using second-screen apps to interest advertisers, Parker said.
As a result, such apps suffer from a chicken-and-egg dilemma -- content creators can't justify the cost of producing ancillary content because the audience numbers that drive advertising are low, but they're low because there's no content.

Mark Ghuneim, chief executive of Trendrr, which tracks and analyzes social engagements around TV content, said studios and labels should look at this issue another way.
"There's a behavioral shift among an entire generation of kids who think TV means YouTube," Ghuneim said. "So do you want to be where the kids are playing, or do you want to risk losing an entire generation of consumers?"

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