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Summary:

Consumers’ use of mobile devices whilst watching TV is becoming popular. But, with another viewing companion app due to launch next week, some in the industry are still debating the potential and the pay-back.

50s Family Watching TV
photo: AP Images

The “second screen” may move closer to the mainstream when the TV companion app Zeebox launches in the US next week, ahead of wider imminent deployment by BSkyB.

But where is the real value in the hot new idea that many in broadcasting are still beginning to explore?

“There’s no difference in the creative at all,” Neil Mortensen, research director of the UK TV umbrella and traditional-advertising champion Thinkbox, told a Royal Television Society seminar on the topic on Tuesday. “It all revolves around extensions of (viewers’) current behaviour.”

Today, aggregated online discussion of on-screen TV shows is a second-screen quick win – prescribing hashtags is easy. Broadcasters and producers are also concocting engagement propositions like voting apps and game show participation. But these are mostly accompaniments to content that is still conceived for a linear TV screen.

“People have always been doing something else, like doing the ironing, while TV is on,” Juliette Otterburn-Hall, digital director of UK independent TV producer Shed Media, told Tuesday’s seminar.

She cited extra production costs and uncertainty over whether networks or producers own the accompanying products as potential issues around second-screen development. But Otterburn-Hall said issues could be ironed out as the matters get thrashed out:  “We’re used to making programmes that you sell, distributing it; we understand it. This adds a whole myriad of complexity. We can overcome these things – it just means more jobs and lawyers.”

Mortensen added: “It improves (viewers’) enjoyment of the TV-viewing experience. A lot of people now say they won’t view the show unless they can interact with it. The fact you are multi-screen and connected is driving more people to watch (TV).”

Zeebox has gained more plaudits than many for testing the second-screen waters. Its app includes social discussion of TV shows, a channel-changing EPG, live information about on-screen dialogue, e-commerce links and a HTML framework with which broadcasters or producers can create their own in-app viewer engagement modules for use during their shows.

Having clocked 1.5 million downloads and 300,000 to 400,000 monthly uniques since launching in the UK last year, Zeebox will likely launch in the US next week, co-founder Anthony Rose told Tuesday’s Royal Television Society seminar.

That launch will be alongside “a very big US partnership”. And it will come with an app upgrade packing a stream of friends’ viewing activity and reminder bookings. It will place Zeebox head-to-head with Intonow, the similar companion app that is now under Yahoo’s ownership.

In the UK, Zeebox quickly earned a double-digit-million investment from News Corp’s BSkyB, for a 10 percent stake, that sees Sky’s sales unit selling ads in to the app and will, in the next couple of months, see a subset of Zeebox’s features integrated in to Sky’s own Sky+ PVR remote control and recording apps.

Together with significant US carriage, the tens of thousands of Sky+ users who will soon see Zeebox’s social TV streams could help popularise the concept, which has so far been adopted well by the early crowd, for a more mainstream audience.

If that becomes the case, where will the money be?

“Advertising will ultimately fuel this whole business,” said Rose, whose app takes brands’ display sponsorships and affiliate links for products mentioned in shows. “Advertising is a $70 billion industry in the US – there’s the potential to have a reinvention of the ad industry – personalised, targeted.”

But Thinkbox’s Mortensen said conventional TV ad sales already allow advertisers to target consumers using demographic and ratings data well. Mortensen said he sees the second-screen opportunity as “chat”, “play” and “buy”.

Sky product development director Gareth Capon disagreed: “New platforms always give you new advertising and commercial opportunities. If you don’t have great user experience, you won’t have anything to commercialise.”

Capon cited Sky Sports F1’s live in-race camera selector for iPad: “You couldn’t do that without being on someone’s lap.”

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  1. In the light of George Entwistle’s impressive vision of a truly digital future for the TV industry, reported elsewhere on your site, the ostrich-like comments from Thinkbox’s research director seem even more depressing. Lobbying for your industry is one thing, but surely what the TV advertising industry needs is bold re-invention, and people who can champion new models, not pretend that nothing has changed. The ad industry projects itself as funky, smart and progressive, but too often it seems like a deeply conservative body fighting to hold on to models that desperately need overhauling. Most of the content creators are way ahead of the ad industry in terms of adapting to the future.

  2. Absolutely, Nick. I was also thinking of his comments during this event. Even many current “second-screen” concepts (TV creative first, engagement as bolt-on) seem linear when compared with the potential for future propositions, on which Entwhistle seemed to fire a starting gun.

  3. Robert, I’m not sure what that quote you’ve attributed to me is about! I don’t recall saying there would be no difference in the creative. If I did say anything resembling that then I plead temporary insanity because it certainly doesn’t reflect what I think or have said publically elsewhere and I’d like to make that clear. Of course there will be differences in the creative both in ads and programmes to take advantage of second screen opportunities. By the way, my name is spelt wrong too.

    Nick, as I say above, I think I’ve been misquoted or at least misrepresented – or perhaps inadvertently misrepresented myself. Thinkbox spends most of its time talking about innovation in the ad industry. Certainly not ostrich-like in any way. But, while there is a lot of innovation to understand and experiment with – the second or even third screen being the most talked about – it is important to remember that TV advertising still works in a very similar way to how it always has and that that is not looking likely to change dramatically in the near future because people prefer watching linear TV. In fact they’re watching more ads at normal speed than ever before. Second screens are expanding and enhancing this though and we are doing our best to get to grips with what this means and how best to make the most of it.

    At Thinkbox we would be happy to show you all the latest innovations in technology, ad formats, and measurement, planning and audience insights.

  4. I’m not sure there’s anything particularly luddite about suggesting the second screen will be used (among other things) to facilitate the buying of things that people see on screen.
    We’re already seeing strong evidence that this is happening, with or without dedicated ‘companion’ apps, particularly due to the rise in tablet penetration.
    Recently we’ve seen that 16% of dual screeners say they looked up information about a product or service they saw advertised on TV, using a second device.
    http://www.essentialresearch.co.uk/blog/2012/07/some-dual-screening-data-from-the-essential-eye/
    S

  5. “A lot of people now say they won’t view the show unless they can interact with it.” Whaaaaaah?

    PS and WTF is with a cropped and photoshopped picture of Jobs holding “an iPad” ???

    1. Hi Kevin, as I mentioned above in my reply to this article, I’ve been misquoted or at least misrepresented. We have just completed some research into real behaviour (not claimed) amongst people that multi screen regularly (and that is a very small percentage of the population at the moment). What was clear was was that multi-screening was drawing some of these people closer to the telly. Perhaps the most reassuring findings is a sense of growing closer to TV – multi screening was/is enhancing their overall enjoyment of TV. You feel more a part of the programme if you follow it, and you can get to know the celebs online. But mainly, you and your friends chat and gossip around the programme and that is the real payoff. We have countless examples of respondents using technology to delve deeper into the programmes they enjoy (ie ‘following’ programmes or actors on Twitter, joining groups, ‘liking’, researching, playing along and so forth) and many reported how much they missed it if they were unable to chat whilst watching.
      I hope this helps clear that point up.
      Neil

      1. Neil, I don’t believe I’ve misquoted you. Mis-spelled, perhaps.
        But I’m glad we are able to continue the discussion here.
        Thanks.

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