In a world where all the statistics on simultaneous tablet/mobile and TV are indicating a massive increase in the behaviour, why are TV broadcasters and 3rd party providers creating 2nd screen services making very poor experiences for audiences? Can content owners and TV broadcasters make the most of this opportunity or have they lost the battle already? Will Twitter, Facebook, GetGlue or other dedicated 3rd party services run the show and begin own the TV communities that spring up at each episode? What are the best approaches to creating 2nd screen but hasn’t all of this been done before? I try to answer a few of these questions and more raised plus highlight some recent and very old interesting examples.

Disclaimer: any views expressed here are mine and do not represent those of any of my employers, past or present

This article is aimed at producers, experience designers, broadcasters and tech companies making or considering jumping into re-emerged interactive TV now known as 2nd screen. It takes the learnings of broader interactive TV from decades old user behaviour in this space combined with the relatively new additional layer of the social alongside TV behaviour. (it also features some late 2010 introduction extracts also from my upcoming social 2nd screen ebook). There is a lot of information below which hopefully some of it made sense even if you are a user only of 2nd screen services, as it does go behind the scenes. 10 key points covering the back-story, how to improve, process and a bit of where next.

95% of viewing is still via broadcast TV (Oztam multiscreen report) – but where is audiences attention?

At this rate Mobile will become the 1st Screen this year?!

At this rate Mobile will become the 1st Screen this year?!

1. This is not new folks.

iTV, ‘eventized programming’ and 2nd screen are as old as the hills, with a heritage going back over 60 years. In fact the oft mentioned Winky Dink and You from 1953 to 1957 actually had kids using a 2nd screen! A piece of plastic they placed over the TV, to draw on, to interact with various ‘impasses’ the characters threw at the kids. Think of the simple equivalent today -an iPad with a cliff hanger still frame from the animation that required kids to draw a solution – “come on there is only 20 seconds left before the wind comes – we need you to draw the windmill! You will be rewarded!”. Then there is this new social thing. Today we have rock solid social ‘network’ applications where audiences talk, shout, pout and scream about the program as it plays out. It is now a global extension of traditional water cooler ‘behaviour’,  not a new phenomenon but now real time and worldwide, shared outside our immediate physical community. For franchised TV this is a blessing and curse – plot spoilers and reveals long before it moves into new territories – but I go off track.

The First 2nd Screen Service 1953

The First 2nd Screen Service 1953

Without doing a full history lesson there are many predecessors to 2nd screen. Good interactive TV has never been about the tech but about the ‘behavioural need’ – bad interactive TV is created by non-creatives and limited by vanilla templates or rely on 3rd party interactions shared across a range of broadcasters. But the audiences desire to interact and play-along with TV –  whether it is single screen red button style (15 years old), synchronised laptop against TV (12 years old) or mobile devices against TV (6 years old at least) have many lessons that have already been learned. So it is odd that many of today’s broadcasters and technology companies are nervously dipping their toes into the waters again, using ground zero methodologies, “it requires a new way of thinking and it is ‘delusional’ to think we know what will work and what won’t” attitude. Wikipedia has a simple para inside its Interactive TV article which refers to the US 2nd screen model from the late 90s.

Notable Two-Screen Solutions have been offered for specific popular programs by many US broadcast TV networks. Today, two-screen interactive TV is called either 2-screen (for short) or “Synchronized TV” and is widely deployed around the US by national broadcasters with the help of technology offerings from certain companies.

Companies like TwoWayTV and Goldpocket had been developing editorial propositions as 2nd screen for years. So I use the word re-booting 2nd screen because there is nothing new about ‘TV that is interactive’. But many content owners think that references to older single screen iTV or laptop against TV shows are some irrelevant relic from the past, ‘that was then this is now’ attitude, when in fact those earlier services had (and still have) engaged audiences often a factor of thousands bigger than the current, mobile + TV model. Some stats from BBC single screen RedButton iTV shows for example here show how pervasive it had been and still is in the UK – even now Red button numbers are at 12 million users a week:

Interactive TV can generate big numbers if done right

Interactive TV can generate big numbers if done right

So why are traditional TV producers and service providers who have never done interactive TV before making so many mistakes? Why are broadcasters foolishly developing cul de sac, land grab strategies? What is the better route? Is there any difference between social and 2nd screen TV propositions?

2. Empathy and Passion

Most of the interactive elements and the multiplatform team/agency that sit alongside a broadcast TV or film production, are an afterthought. It is a sad fact that this is still the case after 20+ years of layering user engagement across TV & Film. Significantly most of these shows/films would not be ‘personally’ watched by the interactive producers, designers or developers – it is just not their ‘thing’. So cutting to the chase, we have a problematic mismatch. Shows and films commissioned as the tent-pole piece, built on research to reach a demographic that are not the actual makers of the ‘experience’ around them – and are often detached and uninterested.

A creative endeavour, especially one with an ‘experiential’ element that does not have passionate creators will come across as dry, in-authentic and technically lead

Often the goal of 2nd screen is to try to draw audiences back to broadcast, but broadcasters are creating new shows that are facsimiles of the past. Safe, formulaic, focused on the TV display and seen as dull to a 2nd screen, socially active audience. This results in a ‘cold’ technical offering, devoid of passion and real understanding of the users and what they are most likely to enjoy being a part of. Then there is the interactive format itself. Often at the lower end of what is technically practical, focused on risk free and the resulting experiences are weak, shallow and of little perceived value to an audience.

For any of this to have real value and for any 2nd screen experience to work for new users, the creators have to be excited about it from an editorial perspective. They need to initially lose the focus only on linear ratings, or raw user numbers and linear first propositions – this will come later. TV broadcasters need to re-model their commissioning and involve experience designers or multiplatform producers at every stage of a new show format – the key is involve early, not bring in after a basic show structure is created but at it’s inception. This is even more critical for synchronised 2nd screen and socially integrated offerings where true two way ‘flow’ has to be built into the dna of the show. Also beware of technically dominant hierarchies in the project teams, where ‘what is comfortably possible’ leads to ‘comfortably numb’ services vs what is meaningful for users.


Templated 2nd screen for Syfy Defiance and Warehouse 13

3. Tune into pre-existing behaviour

Over the last 70 years audiences have developed various patterns of behaviour alongside their TV watching. Whether shouting at the screen during 50s Jeopardy, listening to the radio during a sporting game (as it provided more in-depth commentary), guessing what will happen next with those around them or today tweeting or shouting in the room about something that ‘moves’ them during a live broadcast.

There is nothing new about what we do while watching traditional TV, yet there is a lack of new formats that truly exploit these traditional TV behaviours.

So be aware of producers or technologists who say ‘we are at the start of the journey’ when in fact this 2nd screen, active layer has been with us for decades, it just happens that now we have the ability to ‘easily produce’ interfaces and apps that allow audiences to become truly participant users. As usual with any new opportunity like this, it is the ‘technologists’ that jump in first. Eager to grab the low hanging fruit, claiming they are pioneering, technically and editorially. They are closely followed by the content networks, ‘new media’ incumbents creating some of the ‘new and shiny’ for themselves and clutch at strategic straws, trying to justify a range of real time TV interaction. It is hard when for most broadcasters their focus over the past decade has been on web marketing or brochure websites for the tent pole TV shows, and very little else.

Forester reports that 63% of GenX and 74% of Millennials use a 2nd screen device more than half the time they watch TV โ€“ Feb 2013

They see 2nd screen as ‘must do’ but don’t know why or how yet. But back to the land grab technical agencies where 2nd screen elements for them are not created on user need, but on what is technically possible and try to entice users with – ‘you can do a poll’, ‘you can play a quiz’, ‘hey look lots of info’ – throwing anything against the 2nd screen wall to see what sticks, ignoring the dried up elements that have already been stuck there for a decade. If it does not start with a clear understanding of the behavioural need, you will not sell your experience based on a generic and vacuous interaction.

For existing shows and ones that follow similar formula (panel, chat, doco, competition, sport) you need to look to pre-existing user behaviour. Does the show prompt lots of social discussion with family in the living/TV room? Does it make people to want to dig deeper and look for more info or feel special in being given back-story or back-stage access? Do they guess what might happen next, the price of something or who will win? Do they want to show off to their peers about their knowledge or simply to share an ‘interesting’ fact? These are simple clues as to the required type of interactions and subsequent ‘value rich’ Call to Action. Do not offer all of these to all shows obviously. Each of the above indicate a specific and obvious interaction. Only when you have identified existing shows that have a clear and strong ‘activity’ should you build any form of 2nd screen service or similar new show. I emphasise the word strong as too many shows are developed where the ‘user need’ is either weak or even worse ill defined – where we say ‘oh the panelists are doing x so the users will want to’ and miss the point that what the panelists are doing is not x, but something that results in x. Be aware that certain actions on screen are not appropriate for inter-actions on the 2nd screen.


A good example of behaviour matching 2nd screen BBC Antiques Roadshow

A good example of behaviour matching 2nd screen BBC Antiques Roadshow

4. Make interactions sympathetic to the show

So whatever you do, make sure you do not just layer on 2nd screen activity because you can. Based on the pre-existing behaviour or carefully crafted new show format with known user interactions, choose points of interaction that improve ‘flow’. I heard from a few new people to TV interactions, that you only need one or two activity points during a 2nd screen show?! Nonsense, you need as many interaction points as is appropriate for the content and general pace – without detracting from the protagonists journey in the program itself. Content should lead, not second guesses about user behavioural limitations. For big 2nd screen social shows in the US such as Idol or the Voice you need to keep the flow moving on social media, Viacom (MTV, Nickolodean) suggest that 15 or more social triggers are proving the best approach for them.

SocialSector for USA Network’s Psych show Feb 2013. Not a parallel experience but a social game linked to the show directly to track down a killer on mobile and smartphone. Raw numbers? Av time spent 14 mins, 220 000 unique users and 8.2 mill page views.

Social Sector Case Study from Ralph on Vimeo.


Back to parallel 2nd screen examples –  a series of 12  BBC interactive TV shows called Test the Nation had over 60+ complex questions spread over 90 minutes and 1-2 millions played along with that over 4 years and shows like Antiques Roadshow or Pawn Stars recently had people guessing prices ten or more times. “Be the contestant” type quiz shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire or Million Pound Drop simply had 2nd screen interaction points that mirrored the contestants. Drama shows (often the hardest) can work in immersing someone in the story, if the extra items do not break the 4th wall and are ‘written/conceived’ by the creators of the story world. With docos and low hanging fruit drama the second screen offerings tend towards trivia or background production information “off to IMDB anyone?” – there is an obvious need for this, making it easier for the user to get to background, but be aware of the overload factor, or the info you choose is in-appropriate. Call for opinion or voting shows do not need to be limited either by number of 2nd screen entry points. A show where the host has a strong audience connection can in truth get them to do anything many times by constantly referencing their input.

Make it worthwhile and users will interact a hundred times during a TV show, just make their interaction be worthwhile to their personal needs and be reflected in the show in someway.

BBC Test the Nation - Millions playing along

BBC Test the Nation – Millions playing along

2nd screen and general Interactive TV around drama is still the hardest to do but with social layers there is a more organic approach possible – see this article about Syfy Sync’s Defiance service recently. Most shows and their creators, still treat the already multi tasking, 2nd screen audience as incapable or unable to process too many interactions. Many articles from tech journo’s talk about how they can’t multi-task or the cues to look up or down at the 2nd screen are hard to follow. Then producers of shows nervously plant one or two interactions across a 30 minute show and wonder why the interactive user tunes out and misses that strategically placed call to action. Yet social network active users will send 30+ tweets out during an engaged show, in fact during shows like Eurovision some tweeters go over their tweeting limit. That leads to specific social interaction questions covered later.

Make the social layers authentic not forced, make sure quizzes are comfortably paced and feel like you playing along are with and ideally against the contestants, make sure timed information is meaningful and enhances vs takes you somewhere else from the main narrative arc, make sure polls are only asked if they are to be reflected back into the show – which leads to…

5. Value the Call to Action – give users a reason to participate

Sky's Got to Dance - Call to Action. Free Vote.

Sky’s Got to Dance – Call to Action. Free Vote.

The value proposition is a difficult beast for many new to interactive TV. Starting from a position of “we don’t know what the user wants”, they default back to their 1st screen, the TV (which is actually the ‘real’ 2nd screen of course for many busy, young social users). They see TV show as the focus and this new 2nd screen stuff should bring in new audiences, right? Wrong. It will bring in engaged users who will come back next time, who will be more loyal to your brand and the show and who may, I repeat may, spread their enjoyment out to their social networks. Find an influencer/s with 100 000s of followers and that starts to mean something in old school language. But it must be made clear in the call to action, why the audience needs to switch from their existing patterns of email and social while a TV show is on, to boot an app (any app) and be pulled into a broadcasters or 2nd screen providers, walled garden net.

Reward. Reward. Reward. Will they win something? Will they learn something of value? Will they be able to show off to or communicate with their peers? Will they be able to make a ‘valid’ contribution into the program? Can they make sure that the best dancer/singer/artiste makes it through to the next round? How will their lives improve? Will they be acknowledged somehow?

That last one is very important. Too many shows rather half heartedly encourage participation and rarely follow through – meaning they just announce an aggregate of votes at the end during a credit roll. They use a mechanism that makes the odds too high for a user to ‘be included’ on the TV or answered personally. Sure with 20 000 tweets a second that is not going to happen but this is where forming smaller groups and eons old community management can come in, turning sceptical users into ones that feel part of something, smaller than the overall audience but part of a tribe. We have yet to see any social TV or 2nd screen service do this well. Chat room tribes + TV call to actions have a big future.

Give users something authentic and meaningful – the days are over where you can wow them with a bit of tech. They want connection and respect. They do not want superficiality and anonymity.

Show related on tablets usage stronger

Show related on tablets usage growing fast

6. Actually be social on your social TV service

During the 2013 Super Bowl XLVII viewership actually declined for the first time in 8 years to 108.4 million viewers but significantly the social conversation increased dramatically to 30.6 million comments and updates primarily on twitter and Facebook. (Bluefin Labs)

Own your community. The Social Media Command Centre

Own your community. The Social Media Command Centre

The 2nd screen is the most important battleground in terms of content owners, TV networks, social media networks and 3rd parties owning the communities that gather around TV shows. Content owners need to be very careful about their strategy in community relationships over reach.

Beyond the votes, polls, quizzes, back-story, information all nicely synch’d to the TV you need to connect, not layer, the social elements. Each activity or interaction needs to allow a user the option to share it or not – even if some are just plain silly, many appreciate the opportunity. As long as it doesn’t nag them or in worst case scenarios lie about what they are doing. Some services will store or fire off social updates even as you browse or explore their 2nd screen without your consent – how does this make the user feel?. Users do not like any service that spams or spies or mis represents them. Be careful here as what seems like a good social feature can turn into the main reason for not coming back. Another consideration is whether to embed things like tweet streams of Facebook pages into your service, or let users find their own tools. There is a lot to be said in having the social conversation next to any 2nd screen interface. Without it a user will need to switch to another ‘screen’ on their 2nd screen to talk and share about what they are doing. Also be careful that making your 2nd screen offering ‘insertable’ on many devices and screens will also mean you are fragmenting your social community and handing ownership over to those 3rd party sites/services who have their own social sign-on provisions. See later on where the social battles are being fought.

What users commit time and energy into becomes ‘their’ content, with which they should be able to spread. It is better as a producer of a 2nd screen service to think along the lines of ‘I am going to make something that the users will think they own’, vs property of XXX. Giving them ownership of their experience on their very ‘personal’ 2nd screen, is critical with social elements. Superficial and in-authentic broadcast tweets from the creators too are frowned on. Have real, named, character driven (if appropriate e.g.: drama) accounts in the mix, in real time, with them, helping, talking too and driving the overall experience. Do not broadcast. Do not be false and say something which it is plainly not.  The simplest example is if they get a great score, make sure they are able to push this out to their network a more complex one may be verging on gamification eg:  ‘name… in now an official XXX Game of Thrones afficianado’ – some may share others won’t. Give them the option.

7. Develop formats with content people, not multiplatform or marketing people

It is very hard to get the content people excited enough to commit real resources around 2nd screen content. They are 110% behind the TV show and going that extra 10 yards to do some “2nd screen stuff” is challenging for them, especially without real proof that 2nd screen can offer anything to boost what they are most focused on – ratings. Whether for their own survival as a TV exec or getting eyeballs for advertising. Then there is TV marketing. In reality most TV marketing departments only understand linear show promotion. They see 2nd screen much the same as a TV website – to support the main proposition, to build audiences or something cool as a useful differentiation from competitor shows. But when it comes down to it, they are not the best placed to promote the true value of 2nd screen services – and we are back to the ‘play along’ without the ‘why’.  This often means the multiplatform teams are on their own for a great deal of the time. Devising formats, second guessing how the format of the show will turn out, what various other stakeholders in the organisation will need, ah yes business need. This leads to another user un-friendly factor – disconnected content. Simple interactions, rather irrelevant content, overall dull experience.

2nd screen shows are not ideally suited to being inside technically driven, automated program guides, they need their own space, look, feel and life and should be an editorial extension of the shows creators. The content makers need to trust the 2nd screen team/s. They also need to be educated about what 2nd screen actually means. Told about the technology sure, but more importantly about the potential and what users needs are across a range of shows. Given examples of interactions that work, not from the last week but going back to the top of this article, what has worked over many years. Then and only then sit down together and construct the two in parallel. If you are really serious about this then the 2nd screen (now the 1st screen – I repeat myself – for many) is as important as another character in the show. Ask the writer how easy it would be to remove a main character from the format!

I haven’t covered the commercial aspects in any great detail in the article yet but all of the points apply to well produced, story driven commercial shows or ads. But this leads onto TV advertising generally moving forward. The 2nd screen has become the 1st screen. Eyeballs are on the 2nd screen ‘most of the time’ for a larger number of existing users, who use audio cues on whether to look up or not. So the corollary of this? Move the ads onto the 2nd screen. Certainly a business model for the likes of Facebook, Twitter TV, YouTube, Netflix and Zeebox and many others who will start to venture into this territory. But this may not be a bad thing ‘if’ the parallel experiences are engaging and not in your face banner-style mentality. Contextual parallel ads that run alongside need to be out of the main panes and only move there if they are editorially strong. ‘Watch with eBay‘ app, Zeebox’s new SpotSynch platform and Bravo’s Old Navy 2nd screen ads and product placement buys anyone?

2nd screen shows/ads made for synchronous purchase. Bravo Old Navy

2nd screen shows/ads made for synchronous purchase. Bravo Old Navy

8. The 2nd screen interface as important as the Program

Aggregate 2nd Screen Apps Australia. Ch10, Ch7, Ch9, ABC

Aggregate 2nd Screen Apps Australia. Ch10, Ch7, Ch9, ABC

Although the principles of good UI and UX say you must not get too personal with the design of the navigation or interface, there is a lot to say for ‘would you use it yourself’. Far too many 2nd screen services are obviously designed by committee or engineers with lots of big data to back up their decision to fill the afore mentioned service with oodles of content. Many turn into ‘passenger airline’ dashboards for TV – tons of EPG data with social and 2nd screen sync content hastily designed and hidden within. We are currently in the era of utility first –  2nd screen models where EPG is first, Social is 2nd and true show based editorial is a definite 3rd afterthought. Here are the basic models that often dictate the interfaces. Utility over editorial, templates over custom editorial in most cases.

  1. The scrapers. Very generic, all network EPGs with various layers of social and bolted-on,  buried beneath generic 2nd screen sync elements.
  2. The walled garden 2nd screens. Focused on a range of single network or channel content in a walled garden but with more ‘custom’ designs around show syncs.
  3. I’m special. Single synchronous web pages or apps that are show branded. Often to a template but at least skinned with the programs livery, using all 2nd screen real estate and look and feel custom to the show.

There are pros and cons with any of the above and the most important one for me is simply the community angle. 2nd screen is now inextricably linked with social media. Without a strong strategy on the social and community around your TV or Film content you may as well forget 2nd screen. What is your relationship with your fans through these services? Do they see it as being created by you or the 2nd screen provider? To have a viable future Content owners will need a direct relationship with their community –  spreading out your 2nd screen experiences across a multitude of platforms without  bringing the social audience into a cohesive whole is a big mistake which will bite you later. Fish where the fish are sure, but make sure they eventually end up in your aquarium. Others with their own fish tanks are very interested in your fish too!

9. Develop specialist 2nd screen content skills

The second screen infrastructure is highly complex. Whether your apps are tied to the audio or visual stream using ACR (synchronised by listening to the TV audio) or some customised triggering system, tying remote, disconnected apps to an often rather fickle broadcast play-out is fraught with problems. Then there are authoring tools to create the play-alongs with the added complexity of merging in social triggers and a range of response engines and endless content servers and response based technologies. It is not for the faint hearted and companies like Zeebox have scraped a range of freely available content such as social media, EPG from the broadcast streams to create a robust but ‘utility’ driven platform and many broadcasters take the easy ‘partner’ route for their editorial 2nd screen offerings because of the barrier to entry.

Game of Thrones had a dedicated and creative focused team inside HBO. Not a bona fide 2nd screen offering but there are plans afoot! – via Lost Remote

  • The season 3 trailer of Game of Thrones earned over 21 million views on YouTube, their most viewed video ever.
  • They generated over 34 million impressions by getting celebs and fans of the show, like Stephen Colbert and Mindy Kaling involved
  • A huge part of their strategy was a global mobile activation, an HTML5 app called โ€œJoin the Realmโ€ that had over 1 million visits, from 200+ countries, with an average time of 11 minutes spent on the app. Over 600,000 Sigils were created, like this hilarious Jewish-themed one.
  • All of this social TV effort helped the series premiere see a new high up from 13% from season 2

A big congratulations to HBO on finding new and creative ways to make a big splash not just on social but on mobile, on a global scale.

The Challenge of Drama and 2nd screen

The Challenge of Drama and 2nd screen


But as well as the technical specialisms required which sits very close to the content makers, the industry really needs content people who understand audience behaviour in this area. Saying something is popular on our platform is often due to the fact that that is the only or easiest thing to do on the platform – content owners need to be aware of these red herrings. “People don’t do social anymore on our platform” – yes it’s because it is 20 times harder than using a simple twitter tool!

It is important content owners take the lead in the coming months and years and not be limited to templates thrown at them because that is what’s only available on 3rd party platforms. Broadcasters need to think users first then find solutions otherwise we are in for years of polls, voting, a link every minute and simple quizzes. Make sure you build up a specialised team or partner with an agency who doesn’t have an KPI agenda of numbers but who are about real audience loyalty to the show experiences and by extension the network. Facebook has already become a de facto social TV platform, they are moving quickly to become a 2nd screen destination too. Content owners need to be aware of the fact they are sending their audiences to other brands, a world for many where Dr Who or Idol becomes a Facebook or Zeebox brand. Be strong. Enforce your editorial driven experiences. Do not deliver same-old, 2nd screen experiences.

10. Own the end-to-end production environment

The 2nd screen is becoming the first screen for many – I repeat myself. This means future battle-grounds for eyes and ears will be won and lost on the 2nd screen. Decisions about what to watch, what to do alongside shows and who to trust will be fought on the 2nd screen. Owning the end-to-end chain means you can differentiate yourself from everyone else by creating unique, tailored experiences. Having a view that the experience must be on every device is also blinkered and short term thinking. If users perceive the experience as valuable they will go where it is – period. Put it everywhere, make it easier sure – but focusing the experience and brand onto web and dedicated iOS/Android app has real value in a ‘play everywhere’ world.  The skills required by creative designers, producers and technologists are critical now. A standalone, show brochure website could be built by anyone in the past, we are now talking about a parallel editorial to the TV show and this requires a new kind of creative team. They need to work alongside the production and, as many of the bigger iTV broadcasters proved, even better in the main linear production team – not on an offshoot multiplatform department. Owning the end-to-end chain therefore is the same as ‘owning’ the end-to-end production process. Owning here meaning you are in control of each step, crafting something of high story production value and meaningful for the target audience. It can be likened to producing a documentary using library footage or making one from scratch with all original footage. Do you want audiences to see your documentary as more reversioned material they have seen elsewhere or something truly unique?

Although 2nd screen eco-systems are complex affairs each content owners 2nd screen ‘content’ is unique. It is important to be self-reliant on your own custom content management systems if you want to provide something beyond simple quizzes or polls – which is the standard from many off the shelf providers of the end to end chain. Unique and valuable experiences come from iteratively developing new formats not relying on off-the-shelf formats used by every other broadcaster. The alternative is to develop shows that fit the off-the-shelf solution more effectively but you can bet everyone else using that solution is going to do the same.

From a technical perspective many broadcasters dip their toes in the waters of interactive TV and get bitten. They try out a risk free, vanilla and rather ‘dry’ proposition as a layer over a formulaic linear show and wonder why the users don’t come in their droves. Audiences sniff in-authentic propositions a mile off and producers of 2nd screen shows need to be unique in their offerings and also completely open to iterative development ‘with’ the users. One thing you can be sure of, the technology will fail. Unless it is a 5 year old, well tested and trusted piece of engineering, things will go wrong. The Walking Dead companion app apparently has sync issues still, but fans were loyal to the intention behind its features…

Walking Dead Companion App

Walking Dead Companion App

The Walking Dead companion app is available for iPad and iPhone, and the initial response has been overwhelming:

  • Made the Top Ten List in the iTunes App Store during the first week
  • 62,000 downloads in the first 60 days
  • 300,000 gameplays in the first 60 days
  • 37.8% uplift in viewers
  • 65.3% jump in audience share

Many larger and bureaucratic film and TV companies try something once, deem that particular area a failure and then stop, or jump over to a managed, 3rd party service with reported reach and in the process lose forever the direct connection with their audiences, come users, come interactive community. Jumping in bed with a tech driven service provider too early and then try to retro-fit an experience around it results in vanilla and dull propositions. There is a standardised third route, something like the new HbbTV standard. Broadband, metadata rich TV – which at the moment given the many other ways people can get online video content, is a very obvious case of a solution looking for a problem.

Be honest if you are trying something out technically for the first time. Make a deal about it. Make the users feel like they are helping the 2nd screen format get better – be inclusive and make sure you connect with them personally over the social channels using the networks they are on while using your service. Other more successful companies, particularly more fleet of foot agencies, adapt and evolve. Learn from mistakes, talk to their users, build on good foundations. Don’t ever put tech first – if too many do, users will write 2nd screen off before it has begun.

Summary and a road-ahead

There is a long road ahead as users and content developers work out new, but also old, 2nd screen formats. It is important to keep doing it, regularly, failing forward and trying new ideas out monthly not once a year. You will simple fall behind as more nimble smaller 3rd party operators and networks, that already own large communities are the ones seen to be innovating – while you deliver the same old easy to manage but un-imaginative offerings like everyone else ‘on’ those 3rd party platforms. Be careful that reach does not come back to bite you when you realise you have no relationship with the audiences interacting around ‘your’ content.

Hopefully this message is the crux of this article. From a user perspective what we, as a social, TV watching audience do, should dictate what broadcasters deliver to us. Our TV behaviours and needs are more important than what is possible. Long gone are the days where we say, oh just entertain us passively, we are now telling the world in real time what we think of those passive experiences – killing them off in one tweet, drawing in thousands more viewers with another.

How we act alongside TV shows now should indicate what things make most sense on a second screen. Will it detract from the show, will it detract from doing emails and social interaction, will it improve all of the above. The reason we are getting sub-standard 2nd screen experiences is because those creating them are not listening or drawing on user research into TV behaviour vs existing 2nd screen behaviour. They may be watching what you do on their ‘first generation’ apps, services and devices, but they are not watching what you actually do and want to do along with your TV shows. Interactive TV’s day will come, or rather it will come again with new clothes on. Over to you. Any thoughts on overall 2nd screen propositions? What is missing? Will a divide between utility EPG and editorially dedicated 2nd screen content offerings spring up? What is the future for 2nd screen?

Update 2 hours after the above published:  Richard Kastelein creator of pointed me to his post today that must have just crossed with mine ๐Ÿ™‚ Now this looks like a  ‘reboot’, significant numbers – “a Dutch 2nd screen TV Gameshow has Engagement Numbers Off the Chart with an app created by UK developers Tellybug. Some numbers from Richard – could this the turning point I mentioned earlier in my post!

According to the Dutch press, about half of all two million viewers have the app and over 300,000 are using it.

“With record downloads and 327,000 active players, this transcends the popular apps from international formats such as Britain’s Got Talent,” explained a spokesperson from RTL.With 17 million people in Holland and a million downloads (plus 300k active), that’s 6 percent of the total population. In the UK that would mean close to 4 million downloads, and in the USA that would spell closer to 20 million downloads and a whopping 6.5 million active users.



and last word from Tellybug “After only a few show transmissions, the format is already proving to be hugely popular with the mobile and web play-along an active part of its success. So far, more than 300,000 unique users take part in the quiz every episode, via the second screen, representing around 15% of the TV viewership. These are record-breaking numbers in a world just beginning to wake up to the possibilities of second screen integration into popular TV formats.”