A funny thing happened when I was watching the final Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs playoff game a few weeks ago.
The Bruins were down by three goals when I left the family room in disgust. But a while later I overheard whoops and yells from my family, so I grabbed my nearby iPhone and checked Facebook. To my delight, I saw the Bs had scored and were back in the game. iPhone in tow, I rejoined my family and found myself going back and forth between the two screens, captivated by the comments following a near-death for my team.
That’s a classic example of the so-called second screen at work, starring me.
Watching television has been a social activity since its inception. Now add to that the enormous popularity of consumer social networks, along with the rapidly growing use of mobile devices--smartphones, tablets, and ultrabooks--and the convergence of all channels appears inevitable.
Indeed, many people are increasingly interested in interacting with others from their mobile devices while they view programming. After all, who hasn’t called a buddy to agonize over a bad football pass or an upset during March Madness, or texted a friend to dish about Kim Kardashian’s growing baby bump? With a plethora of social media apps to choose from, the shared viewing experience allows people to comment, critique, and make recommendations while they watch TV. For example, the TV show “Pretty Little Liars” recently made history after its season two finale received 645,000 tweets during the first broadcast--the most of any regularly scheduled series ever. (Tweeting, in fact, has emerged as a key driver of social TV interaction--one-third of active users tweeted at least once about TV-related content in June 2012, according to Nielsen.)
But right now users have to avert their eyes from the TV to interact using their mobile devices--also referred to as the “second screen.” The second screen has played an integral role in getting people comfortable with all they can do while they watch--so much so that this form of multitasking has become a routine activity. The downside, however, is when viewers are busy doing something on their second screens, they risk missing a key moment on the TV. Eventually they will want a more seamless experience.
That will happen, industry observers say, though not for a few more years. New platforms are making it possible to incorporate all social interactions to a single, integrated system that can be viewed from any mobile device. Once people become accustomed to and adept at interacting right from a single screen, observers say there will be a decline in the need for a second screen. In a few years’ time, some believe, the single social screen will become the next evolution of TV.
Path To Unification
In the meantime, the second screen will continue to drive people’s viewing behavior during the next 24 months, according to Gartner. The research firm believes social TV activities will play an integral role in enhancing the value of the TV experience and create opportunities to add new users, drive engagement, and open new advertising opportunities through existing social networks.
To prepare for the eventual single-screen transition, marketers need to pay attention to social TV as it stands today. The growth of social activity has become a game changer in the way advertisers reach consumers, and the cost-per-acquisition is no longer the best indicator of advertising effectiveness, according to Matt Arkin in an iMedia Connection article. Consumers have become empowered, he noted, and they now control the message.
“Smart advertisers have caught onto this multimillion dollar plan, and are looking at every possible avenue to encourage customers to spread the word and collectively help them establish a better connection with their brand. The results are undoubtedly crucial, and there is no question about it -- branding dollars go much further than those devoted to short campaigns,’’ Arkin wrote.
That's why is critical for marketers to pay close attention to how the shared viewership, connections, and streams integrate, and then figure out how to take those insights and use them to enhance their brands. Research also has shown communicating to be a top priority for social TV users, especially those in their late teens and 20s, who are interested in engaging in Facebook chats with multiple friends, while also texting and talking on the phone simultaneously to discuss a program.
According to a recent Nielsen study, 85 percent of mobile device owners use a tablet or smartphone while watching TV at least once a month, with 40 percent doing so daily. In terms of demographics, the study found that, surprisingly, people from the ages of 55 to 64 are the heaviest Web surfers and check their email most frequently on tablets while watching TV. Overall, tablets are the preferred second-screen device among the older age group, while smartphones tend to be used during TV viewing by people ages 18 to 24, the study found.
Also driving the growth of social TV is the fact that major cable companies are providing open interfaces that allow users and third-party companies to interact with each other and the programming. Among the activities users are engaged in while watching TV are shopping, visiting a social networking site, looking up information related to the TV program being watched, looking up product information for an ad seen on TV, and searching for coupons or deals related to an ad seen on TV, according to Nielsen. Content is also being shaped by social media as more people opt to discuss news and entertainment in real time.
A dizzying array of players are popping up in the social TV, or “TV Everywhere,” space. Second-screen apps include Viggle, Zeebox, Getglue, Intonow, Miso, and Stevie. The networks are also getting into the act with services like USTREAM or their own social apps, and services providers, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Apple, also offer varying degrees of social sharing.
Bad News For Advertisers?
But not everyone is enamored with the promise of social TV. While second-screen TV was “born out of the boredom of television viewers,” it is “failing the advertising industry immensely because it’s causing major distractions, not engagement, to advertising,’’ said Andrew Gordon, president of Direct Impact Group, a direct response advertising firm focused on lead generation through offline media. While an app might have hundreds of thousands of downloads, with the exception of live, powerhouse programs such as the Grammys or Super Bowl, “there’s very few people using these apps” at any given time, Gordon told CMO.com.
TV is a “lean-back experience,” he added, and people want to relax and get lost in whatever entertainment they are watching. A lot of second-screen apps today are complex and require a learning curve, Gordon said. “Until [social TV is] truly synched up with commercials, it’s eradicating commercial engagement and consumer response with the commercials,’’ he said.
Steve Turner, however, has a different view. The CEO of SimulTV, a provider of content and social sharing integrated on the same screen, sees social TV as creating a lot of opportunity in the advertising space and expects that content providers will find it to be another advertising revenue stream.
“The single screen allows them to grow their traditional model plus the Internet model and then take it to next step, which is what we’re doing: fully interactive advertising,” Turner told CMO.com. “With the single-screen aspect, you have traditional linear commercials, but what’s going to the Internet and going to the second screen will be pulled back to the single screen because you have the ability to see who’s watching because it’s a fully integrated model.”
SimulTV, which is a paid app that can be used from a computer or mobile device, can tell content owners when someone has turned to a particular channel or interacted with a program. “This gives them insight they’ve never had before. That allows us to do an interactive model in a linear model,’’ Turner said, likening the process to Google Analytics, which tracks information in order to provide pop-up ads and provide the user with a better experience. “At the same time it allows us to analyze the industry internally so we can be thought leaders based on evidence.”
Adobe Prime Time, a platform for programmers and pay-TV providers, is also looking to capitalize on growing consumer interest in watching and engaging with digital video, while maximizing the value of their content. (Note: Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company.)
Campbell Foster, director of product marketing for Prime Time, cited three issues as TV Everywhere grows: getting content to the consumer from any device, monetization of that content and analytics, and having an understanding of who is looking at what and when. Prime Time offers one video player so all content can be viewed easily and securely from any screen, he told CMO.com. It has a single ad system and, like SimulTV, an analytics component so broadcasters and operators can customize content and the ad experience based on what they know about the consumer, Foster said.
Foster believes the second screen will not go away anytime soon and that it can “enrich the primary device. . . .There’s a lot of room for innovation, and I don’t think anyone knows [what the future will bring]. I think there’s room for both.”
Direct Impact Group’s Gordon conceded that, at some point, marketers and advertisers will have the opportunity to leverage social TV more fully. “I think a lot of marketers could have more of a selling opportunity at their fingertips; we just have to figure out how to leverage [it],” he said. “It’s about trying to figure out what works from an advertising perspective in social TV. The second screen is a companion device to TV and potentially could allow for more interactivity, so we have to move the second screen from a distraction to an opportunity.”
In the meantime, marketers should take note: As social TV gains in popularity, viewers will want more from their social TV services beyond the commoditized content that can be found through online searches. Rewards with real value, such as free merchandise, will also gain interest among viewers since they offer an emotional payoff. Consumers are quickly gaining power, and no longer will advertisers be able to solely dictate the message they want you to hear.