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As the American attention span while consuming media gets more and more distracted, it’s interesting to check in on how various folk are finding ways to capitalize on the two-screen experience.
For there’s always a motive beyond keeping people entertained. For the Breaking Bad StorySync experience, the goal was to discourage DVRing your way through the episode broadcast. In the case of the Marvel’s (s DIS) The Avengers second screen iOS (s AAPL) app, the goal seems to be driving Blu-ray and DVD sales.
I didn’t know the Avengers app existed until I opened the Blu-ray case, and even that was a fluke (like most people, I suspect, I tend to ignore the paper inserts tucked alongside shiny new Blu-rays or DVDs) — but in the long run, that fluke was most fortunate.
First off, this app is Hulk-sized: When I sat down to test out the app, I had to clear off several apps and a dozen podcasts to find a spare 435 MB on my iPhone. (I also tested it on iPad.) The home screen of the app, originally released this summer, emphasizes the Item 47 Comic-Con experience and dossier files on Avengers characters — you have to go one level deeper to get to the good stuff.
Through the magic of BD-Live and a shared wi-fi network, syncing my devices with the movie was almost instantaneous (for those whose Blu-ray players aren’t online, there are also audio and manual sync options). Once I hit play, the second-screen experience began flooding in: Photos, text and video from the film popping up on my devices fast.
By far the best feature of the app was the on-screen Pause button, which allowed you to stop the movie without reaching for your remote, followed close behind by the “Sync App to Movie/Sync Movie To App” buttons. That’s because the barrage of updates on the second screen was literally impossible to keep up with — and with few exceptions, it was all pretty compelling.
Trivia notes added extra insight about the production’s collaboration with NASA and director Joss Whedon’s decision to cast Mark Ruffalo. Still images included storyboard galleries and photos of the film’s extremely attractive cast, timed with their first on-the-big-screen appearances.
And the video was especially great: Highlights include Tom Hiddleston goofing around during his wirework stunts and Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double practicing the fight choreography of Black Widow’s first scene.
All the clips loaded cleanly, and were soundless in case you hadn’t paused the film to watch them (though most of them were good enough to warrent my full attention). In short: That 435 MB was not ill-spent.
The only major bug I found came with the text-based updates, like actor bios or filmmaker notes: When the text fit into one screen, everything was fine:
But try though I might, I could not figure how to finish reading entries which were longer than the confines of the frame, on either the iPad or iPhone. I tried scrolling, swiping, zooming and even asking Siri — but no dice. If you know how to scroll the text in this app, please let me know — I’m very curious how some of these notes end.
I also couldn’t get certain links to load, such as links to comics — the app is not a bug-free experience in its current form. But what’s there is without a doubt great fun.
In fact, the only other caveat I’ll mention is this: I spent at least half an hour “watching” the first major scene of the movie — skipping back and forth through both the film and the app timeline, using the sync buttons to rewatch certain bits with a new perspective, or catch up with what I’d missed while looking at a device.
Seriously: It took 30 minutes for me to get to the opening titles, which appear 11 minutes into the movie. The Avengers were nowhere close to assembling before I had to go to bed. However, I’m looking forward to getting through the rest of the experience, slowly but surely.
You don’t need to purchase the film in any form to check out the second screen content — not only is the app free on iTunes, but there’s an “Explore on your own” option that lets you browse the timeline content without syncing. However, if you’re one of the fans who helped The Avengers set box office records this summer, you’ll enjoy having the experience as a viewing companion. I know I did.