Second Screens: a beginners guide

Posted on October 23, 2012


I have been working on a second screen app. and so doing some thinking,  doing some reading.

However someone asked me, earlier today about them and I thought I should write a few things down.

TV has changed in the last few years,  because there are

  • far more channels, far more content.
  • more TVs in the house than ever before and
  • TVs have become connected (ie they can connect to the internet for content, and for apps)

however something that has also changed is what we do when we are watching TV.  Sure a lot of people have been doing other things in front of the TV (now now,  keep it clean) including, knitting, ironing, homework, eating, reading! and so on.  Now though with the rise of the smartphone, the laptop and the tablet the use of the internet while watching TV is growing hugely, and is very en vogue.

  • 77% of users use a laptop/phone/tablet whilst watching TV (at least from time to time) as declared by Rogers communications recently.

The story is a little more complicated because the type of show also dictates the likelihood, so for passive programs like reality TV/ talent shows there is a far greater use of second screens,  and for immersive shows (drama and others with a plot line) far less so.

So if three quarters of people are using a second screen, then surely it is not a second screen,  nor is it a companion screen any more, so what is it ?

I suggest it is more like a joint screen,  or a dual screen,  call it what you will,  but it has parity,  and for a lot of people it will have the major share of their attention for long spells of time.

After all your holding it in your hands, it invites you to touch it, change it.  Messages and notifications pop up, twitter and facebook updates keep scrolling past, that game your playing keeps on going,  so it is going to demand your attention, isn’t it.

Like all mobile apps you need to ensure tht you take notice of the

  • location
  • context
  • the type of program your supporting.
  • Know your user, their aspirations for the app, and their “pain points”

So that the app is not a throw away,  does not jar with the TV experience.  Timing and synch are key too,  so that the app is not in advance of the program.

Need to consider if the user is watching the program on playback from PVR.

Make good use of notifications and other messaging tools to bring people into the app, and returning to it, and at the moment the ability to share via twitter, facebook, pinterest and all the other social networks is important,  but this, imho, should not be the be all and end all.  Collecting “likes” is meaningless,  creating a community is not.

Community has been the holy grail since c. 97 for web sites,  and few have succeeded,  so again beware of throwing budget away on thinking people will want to hold long running conversations RE your program or product,  like as not they are probably only going to snack on such services.

So how are the devices used ? here are some figures from Libery Global

  • PC
    • 40% finding information
    • 29% keeping up to date
    • 69% at home
  • Phone
    • 54% communication
    • 33% entertainment
    • 60% at home
  • Tablet
    • 63% entertainment
    • 32% communication
    • 79% at home
  • TV
    • 100% entertainment
    • 0% communication
    • 100% at home

In summary TV is becoming a less sit back and just watch,  people are wanting to be better engaged, in particular with shows that are “OK” but not the most interesting, or just don’t require your full attention.  Make your app understand this, understand the context (time of day/week/year, and that your user is also watching TV) and to understand the best level of social interaction.  Use the app tools to keep your audience coming back,  because most apps are only used for a month before they get forgotten, or deleted.


on a side note

If you had the Tivo or the Sky EPG and you scrolled through the length of it on a 40″ TV it will be as tall as big ben ! (I saw this in a presentation,  so I guess it’s true,  sounds about right, wish I could remember where I saw it.)  yet folks only ever watch a small range of channels in a week,  less than 20 of the 120+ channels. (Source Credit Suisse) This does mean that the EPG is not working,  it needs to be rethought.  There are some new thinking like the Tivo shows you which programs it can pull from catch up TV services,  so that you can go back in time, and pull a program you missed.  But why ohh why are they so list/grid orientated, why are my recorded shows separate, why can’t it highlight suggested shows, based upon my viewing history, taking into account the season, day of week, time of day.

Posted in: life, TV