The Birth and Slow Evolution of Second Screen

Written by: on March 1, 2013

Second Screen is not a form of technology or marketing – it is actually an evolved habit that has been defined by the hundreds of millions of smartphone and tablet users worldwide. Essentially, those of us with a smartphone or tablet are already using it in front of the television, a viewing experience many are calling Second Screen.

A recent study actually found 88% of tablet owners and 86% of smartphone owners are already exhibiting this behavior, and users are increasingly looking on their mobile devices for content that relates to what is on the TV.

The problem with Second Screen today is that it has been nearly 100% user-defined; there is no catalyst, historical best practices, or segment leader, such as Apple, defining what’s next and best. What has been executed so far has created a fractured experience, with the mobile screen actually distracting from the TV screen.

This post is the first part of a three-part series on Second Screen, designed to bring those new to the term up to speed while helping companies like yours think about where and how Second Screen might play into your strategies. We’ll share with you what’s happened, why it’s happening, and hopefully push your marketing and interactive teams to a place where they’re challenged – before the future challenges you.

The Birth of Second Screen

The first round of Second Screen apps focused on two main areas: check-ins and Auto Content Recognition (ACR).

Check-in apps were adaptations from the location-based check-in services like Foursquare and BrightKite. These media-based check-in based applications focused on sharing content the user was consuming via social networks and awarding them badges for their actions. Examples for this include Get Glue and Miso.

While these apps generated impressive download statistics and initial usage, it appeared there was not enough user value in badges and social sharing to provide long-term usage. As a result, user burnout occurred, and many of these apps are now trying to branch-out beyond these initial offerings to re-engage users and become “stickier” parts of a user’s day-to-day behaviors. At best, it appears check-in services will have to be part of a larger offering to truly encourage consistent usage.

Coming from a different angle, ACR apps like Shazam and SoundHound were created to recognize the content that was playing on the TV (and in Shazam’s case, on the jukebox at your local bar or the radio). By holding one’s mobile device close to the TV screen, it actually listens to the content and tries to relay to the user what it is he/she is consuming. This first wave of ACR apps focused on music discovery, to tell users the name of the song playing in a movie or in the background of a commercial. This use-case quickly expanded, however, and apps that utilized ACR for inner-episode content recognition, like IntoNow began to appear. This second-wave of ACR apps focused more on the actual content of a program, allowing the user to “scan” a show, commercial, movie, or sports event and get further info on topics or commerce opportunities from the application.

The Last Two Super-Bowls Demonstrated ACR Was Not the Right Second Screen Approach

ACR is currently the most effective way to sync the two screens, but use case studies have started to show that it is, for the lack of better words, the QR code of the Second Screen space.  It is cumbersome, slow, and not user-friendly for what it tries to accomplish.

The last couple of Super Bowls were supposed to really help push Second Screen mainstream, via ACR and “Shazamable” commercials. However, the game taught us that an ACR-backed Second Screen experience was not what consumers were looking for.

Looking at the use case of ACR during the Super Bowl, here was a common occurrence:

  1.     User is at party, watching Super Bowl with peers
  2.     Game breaks to commercial, with “Shazam callout” on bottom of TV screen
  3.     User proceeds to tell everyone at party, “Shut up!  I need to Shazam this commercial!”
  4.     User disengages from his or her conversation and walks up to TV screen
  5.     User finds/launches Shazam app, mostly likely after commercial ends, so they have to find remote and rewind DVR to use
  6.     User holds device inches from TV screen, while reminding everyone to be quiet until the scan completes
  7.     Someone drunkenly blurts something out, ruining ACR scan, causing user to have to start over again
  8.     User gives up in frustration and grabs another handful of pizza rolls

ACR is simply a placeholder until cable and satellite television providers begin opening up their set-top box API’s, allowing apps to talk directly to the set-top box to easily decipher what is on that moment. When this occurs, finding out what is on during a show, movie, or commercial will be much more user-friendly and easy for app developers to utilize, and the value of ACR will most likely fade into a niche product.

But what’s next? ACR and check-in apps have to become something more in order to stick around, so how will Second Screen adapt to serve more and savvier users and smarter, more plugged-in brands? We will broach those ideas in our next installment, where we discuss the introduction of social TV and how it’s changing the way that app developers and brands look at the potential for Second Screen.

Jason Ary

Jason Ary

Jason is the Director of Mobile Strategy for Double Encore, Inc., a leading mobile development company. Jason has been actively involved in the mobile product and marketing space since 2007, where his guidance and expertise has since earned him multiple #1-ranked iOS applications, Webby recognition and millions of downloads.

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