Social Media & The Second Screen

By Adam Sewall on Nov 11 2011 at 8:00 AM

The start of football season. The Royal Wedding. An over-hyped natural disaster. These are all events that prompt people to gather around the water cooler, sharing their favorite moments from the previous night's programming. But instead of waiting for the next day to gossip with colleagues about what the ending of "Lost" really means, why not connect and comment immediately?

With the rise of social media, people are increasingly cozying up in front of the television with remote in one hand and a smartphone, tablet or laptop in the other. About 70 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as a second screen while watching television, according to a recent Nielsen survey. While still in its infancy, the second-screen experience allows people to comment and react instantaneously online as, say, drama unfolds on the "American Idol" stage. 

Networks and publishers recognize the potential of social media, the No. 1 online activity, and are capitalizing on the trend by creating a more social TV. There are a number of concepts and tools to create a seamless, integrated viewing and sharing experience, and the industry is scrambling to find that right formula to engage and grow their audiences. Here’s a quick look at three broad themes we think will be key to creating successful second-screen experiences.  

Synchronize the screens

Making broadcast, cable or satellite TV work in conjunction with a Web-powered second screen currently requires some finagling—and workarounds that can synchronize the two streams. Audio watermarking is a technology increasingly used in TV apps for tablets, for instance. In September 2010, ABC teamed up with Nielsen to create what was billed as the first iPad app using this technology for its primetime drama "My Generation." By using the tablet's microphone, the app is able to sync its content to particular scenes, providing relevant polls, trivia, behind-the-scenes insights and social networking features as the show moves along. 

Cross-device video delivery

When they leave the couch, users will naturally want the ability to continue watching content on, say, their iPad. Accordingly, publishers need the capability to deliver high-quality video not only to the big screen, but also to the second screen itself. Netflix, for one, has done relatively well in this area; it recently added Android 2.2 and Android 2.3 to its list of devices capable of streaming the aggregator’s videos. Cross-device video delivery is a recurring theme that, in many ways, will define the future of digital media. Publishers that are able to stream video to devices—computers, mobiles, game consoles, set-top boxes, tablets, connected TVs—will capture the biggest audiences.

Video analytics

To gauge the effectiveness of innovations in TV, analytics is key. Armed with the right tools, companies get key insights on users and their viewing habits. What percentage of video is watched on a “first” screen versus a second screen? How does social sharing—whether external or integrated into the second-screen experience—impact viewership? Content creators and distributors that are able to measure and track variables such as ad load, device type, viewer engagement and views by time-of-day are best positioned to develop effective video strategies. For instance, data on sharing can be used to integrate better content recommendation into the second-screen experience.

Television has gone a long way in the last several decades. Screens have gotten larger, sets have become thinner—and now a potentially integral part of the TV experience is emerging at the crux between second screens and social media. It’s not necessarily enough to create good content. To really capture an audience, it’s important to create engaging TV.

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