5 Things Keeping Second Screen From the Masses

Written by: on April 16

Second Screen is a new, emerging mobile vertical that has received great attention over the last couple of years. The term describes how consumers have integrated mobile devices into their living room experience.

Recent studies have shown that over 85% of smartphone and tablet owners use their mobile devices in front of the TV at least once a month. In response, many networks and programmers have focused on creating an ecosystem where the mobile screen and TV screen ‘work together’. Syncing technologies like Auto Content Recognition (ACR) were created, allowing the mobile device to listen to and then sync to the TV experience, while Social TV offerings have continued to mature in functionality and popularity the last couple of years. One would be likely to think there’s lots of exciting opportunities on the horizon, but for all the promise and attention the space has received, Second Screen-specific apps have yet to really take off and crack the mainstream.  Why is that?

The five reasons why Second Screen apps have yet to go Mainstream:

1.     Most of what’s out there fails to cater to existing second screen behaviors that created the space to begin with. Second Screen was born out of boredom and defined by consumers; they looked to their smartphone or tablet when the TV content was boring them or there was an extended break between programming. The space has focused so much on a synced experience between the TV and mobile device, it has lost sight of these core habits and times of use.

Many of today’s Second Screen apps are coming from programmers and advertisers who are side-tracked with pushing their show/product in the space, so they can’t really provide the tools and functionality that second screen habits dictate. Again, one of the main uses of Second Screen right now is a byproduct of boredom; the first screen is boring or there’s a commercial on, so the viewer decides to check Gmail, Twitter or Facebook. Think of one Second Screen app that allows users, whenever they choose, to easily check their social networks and email while interacting with the programming. They don’t exist. Second Screen was created by consumers but hijacked by content creators, and the viewing audience has not responded well to how the space has evolved.  They’re still largely choosing their own Second Screen experience, not the ones the apps are providing.

2.     Too many are trying to make the Second Screen the first screen. TV viewing is a lean-back experience; people want to relax, turn their minds off and absorb easy entertainment. Many of the available Second Screen apps today are very complex, even after the user has the learning curve down, the app still requires constant focus, and this brings a conflicting lean-forward user experience to a lean-back environment. The best Second Screen apps will eventually have limited interaction, but these interactive aspects, such as choosing your ending, participating in game shows, and entering contests, will be pushed at key times when it doesn’t distract from the first-screen experience.

3.     Fragmentation is in full-effect and getting worse. Various studies have shown that people download dozens of apps on their mobile devices but use just a handful consistently.  This is yet another area where content providers and app producers in this space are not recognizing established consumer habits. Networks and programmers should put out one app for ALL of their programming and advertisers, not one for each show.  A consistent, flowing experience keeps users engaged, while requiring them to fire up a new app each time they change the channel or between shows is a horrid UX.

The current Second Screen app space is simply too watered-down to get suitable traction. From Walking Dead to Celebrity Apprentice, Conan to the Game of Thrones, every show seemingly has its own second screen app these days, but no consumer is going to learn/use 20 different apps for a good Second Screen experience.

Applications like Zeebox and IntoNow are trying to remedy this issue by allowing you to view any live, linear content on the TV from within one app, one UI, one experience. While I see apps like this as the most promising avenue for Second Screen, there are few offerings like this, and they are very reliant on ACR technologies that are not overly user-friendly. For apps like this to crack the mainstream, the Zeebox’s of the world need to talk directly with set-top boxes through open API’s to figure out what the user is watching consistently and without user input.  Once apps like this fully integrate with the DirecTV’s and Comcast’s of the world, we’ll know this movement has taken one step closer to going mainstream.

4.     There is little involvement from the networks or cable/satellite providers. While they are providing numerous apps, if you really look at what the studios and networks are doing, Second Screen is something that has evolved as an afterthought. They create the content then look for ways to create Second Screen content around it.

The Second Screen vertical will only take off if there are related concepts and approaches implemented from the very beginning, as in when the show or movie is being written, shot, and edited. Imagine if, when watching The Matrix, you could choose the blue pill instead of the red pill. Just think of how much more you would watch your favorite movie if it had 20 or 30 different paths you could select throughout it, all taking you to different battles, relationships or endings? This is the promise of Second Screen at its core – that we can determine the outcome of the content we are watching by our input. Unfortunately, we are nowhere close to this. Hollywood needs its own visionary – its own Steve Jobs – to make this a reality.

Right now so much of the focus on Second Screen is focused on Social TV. While knowing what’s hot and what’s trending is good for social discovery and water-cooler talk the next day, creating social content during a show is too distracting from the first screen to be a heavy-hitter.  Choosing the show’s direction, participating in a quiz, guessing the next play the team is going to run, that’s what the players in the TV space need to be focusing on to push this movement to the masses.

5.     We need more tablets in homes. While smartphones can be second screen devices, there’s no doubt that the bigger screen size of tablets, even smaller ones, is much better for this experience. Thankfully, this issue won’t take long to resolve; tablet growth is exploding, with iPad sales at three times the pace of the iPhone. While 30% of households today have a tablet, new offerings in the form of the iPad Mini, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD will hopefully push tablet ownership from early adoption to the early majority over the next couple of years. Inevitably, the more platforms and screens there are to conduct Second Screen activities, the more attention and focus the space should receive.

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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