March/April 2013
Volume 33 No. 2

March/April 2013
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The Second Screen is Coming to the First Screen’s Rescue

Nowadays, traditional linear television is battling fragmentation, disruption, reduced revenues, legal, technological and regulatory challenges and increased costs. But have no fear, what technology taketh, technology giveth. If new technology spearheaded a plethora of problems for the TV screen, new technology is now coming to the rescue with a second screen.

As 2nd Screen Society’s Chuck Parker explained, traditional television could recapture viewers’ attention by engaging them through a second screen, be it a smartphone, a tablet or laptop.
The 2nd Screen Society was formed in Port Washington, NY, last June, and it now counts 40 members with Guy Finley as its executive director and Chuck Parker as chairman. It has produced a 252-page report available for $2,995, while a 95-page executive summary goes for $495.

According to The Consumer Lab 2012 report from Ericsson, 62 percent of viewers watch TV while using a second screen. In a report, the 2nd Screen Society put that figure at a more modest 40 percent.

Now, if indeed the report that 62 percent of TV viewers watch television while using tablets, smartphones or laptops is correct, one might think that it doesn’t say much for the quality of the programs viewed. If one observes how children and young adults consume television, when watching something that interests them, they focus solely on the program. When, on the other hand, they slouch on the couch with the TV tuned into a program they do not particularly like, they immediately go into the second screen mode.

Not so, said Parker, pointing out that the Super Bowl game on CBS last February represented the most social TV telecast so far, with a total activity of over 52.5 million performed by 24 million people. Some 56 percent of these “engaged” viewers were male and 44 percent female, using mobile devices (88 percent) and the Web (12 percent).

During the most recent Academy Awards ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC Network provided second screen viewers with “Oscar All Access” digital offerings accompanying the live broadcast.

Also recently, Fox Broadcasting Company (FOX) launched a new syndication network that will distribute FOX’s custom sync-to-broadcast experiences — currently available exclusively in FOX NOW apps — to other second screen TV app providers.

So, not only is the second screen necessary to recapture viewers, but it represents a growing source of revenues with $490 million a year invested globally so far, reaching an estimated $5.9 billion by 2017 monetized both by advertising and mobile commerce.

Often, the second screen is said to be the 21st century version of reading a newspaper while watching TV. But Parker rejects that analogy because reading newspapers “is flat,” while engaging with a second screen is “like reading changing headlines or three different articles.”

However, one could define the second screen as the second phase of the interactivity (now called “engagement”) envisioned for just the TV screen, which was seen, as recently as two years ago, as the center of multimediality. If the surveys are accurate, watching television has once again become a “social activity,” although of a different nature than the traditional family viewing of decades ago. Today’s TV social activity is on an individual level, interacting with other individuals through a second screen, including social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. It is possible that, nowadays, a family could watch the same television program, while each member is engaged with their own personal device.

With the second screen, viewers also give “multitasking” a new connotation, since they read, write, listen and watch, supposedly at the same time. Unreal as it seems, the second screen is indeed real, and broadcasters are starting to take advantage of it in shows’ production stages, if not even at script levels, with specialized teams that integrate second screen non-linear features into the process to provide engagement bait. And this can be done even with old library material for any genre, including drama, especially if the program is character-driven. Naturally, the question of standardization is still to be resolved, since it involves several issues, such as experiences, connectivity and syndication of metadata, among others.