Mobile Marketing

Is TV The Second Screen Now?

Which is the second screen at your place?  These days you hear a lot about smartphones and tablets becoming the second screen, supplementing the TV experience while we sit on the couch.   There is no doubt locally that we are using our smart screens while watching the big screen.   According to recent research from Google, 49% of Australian smartphone owners use it while watching TV, and Frost & Sullivan reported that 48% of Australian tablet owners use their device while watching TV.  This is backed up by similar research from Nielsen who identified that more than half of smartphone and tablet owners visited a social networking site while watching TV, and at least 1/5 spent time reading social media discussions about the program they were viewing.  We’re not just chatting with our friends either.  According to Nielsen, 49% of smartphone owners had looked up information about a show while watching it and 13% of tablet owners had interacted with a show while watching it.

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What is Second Screening?

A quick Google search will tell you than plenty of people think ‘second screening’ is the next big thing.  Publishers, producers and advertisers worldwide are experimenting with ways to engage the TV watching audience on their smartphones and tablets in parallel consumption with the main event.  But that of course assumes the TV is still the main event and the smartphone secondary.

If you wake up in the morning and reach for the screen beside your bed, carry it with you throughout the day, use it for all your daily communications, interactions and media consumption, then come home and engage with it on the couch while you watch another screen in the background for a few hours in the evening… which one is the second screen??

TV Used to be Shared

TV was traditionally a shared experience.  The whole family gathered around to watch a show, often inviting friends and neighbours in to join the experience.  Originally entire communities would come together to share in the only local television set.   With TV viewing increasingly a lonely experience, audiences are drawn to opportunities to share it with others.


These days smartphones and tablets are commonly understood to be the key platforms for social interaction. Services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Whatsapp and many more provide opportunities to engage with a network of others around topics and content of interest.  It’s a logical extension for the smartphone and tablet to step up as the social element that’s missing from the TV viewing experience.

The idea of a screen stepping in as an alternate for social interaction would have seemed odd to the traditional TV viewer, but the social platforms available on smartphones and tablets offer current day viewers a similar opportunity to share their experience with others.

TV audiences turn to Twitter to find others discussing their favourite shows, engage with live event reporting or interact directly with the producers of a show.  Facebook is used between groups of friends to discuss the TV content they commonly enjoy.  Reality TV shows use messaging services to conduct voting and polls, engaging their viewers and offering the chance to impact on broadcast content.  These are examples of existing platforms being co-opted to support social engagement around TV content.

Companion Apps

Like any new market, it’s only a matter of time before specific platforms emerge to support the new experience.  Already in Australia we have companion apps like Zeebox and Fango, specifically developed to support the TV experience on a second screen.  Companion apps provide extended content and social engagement specifically around TV content.  A companion app is designed for use while watching TV, as the second screen.  One of the earliest examples of a companion app in Australia was locally produced TV app OzTV which extended its TV guide with additional supporting information from Wikipedia and social elements like checking in to shows that you’re watching.

The idea of a screen stepping in as an alternate for social interaction would have seemed odd to the traditional TV viewer, but the social platforms available on smartphones and tablets offer current day viewers a similar opportunity to share their experience with others.

Some of the Catch Up TV services, (such as Nine’s Jump In app) include companion content for their broadcast shows, such as videos, cast bios and episode guides. Social engagement such as chat rooms and links to Facebook and Twitter are increasingly common on the apps and services launched by the TV networks.  Seven has launched a separate service called Fango which provides the companion content to it’s programming and offers voting, chat and competitions.

In an interesting development, Ten and Foxtel partnered with UK based Zeebox to create and deliver companion content for their TV shows.  Although there are certain benefits to partners, Zeebox offers a full TV guide with all networks on equal footing and it’s clear they are keen to see more broadcasters get involved in the future.  The app has been very popular in Australia with 200,000 users downloading it in the first few weeks.

Zeebox Screenshot

A single Free to Air TV companion app has obvious advantages to viewers over individual apps for each network.  If the goal is to connect with your social network, a central destination is better than multiple disconnected services.  Zeebox offers viewers of any channel the chance to follow, book, share and chat about their favourite shows. It also integrates with Facebook so you can set up viewing parties with friends and chat throughout a TV show.  Although some of the integrated companion content is only delivered for partners Ten and Foxtel, there is plenty on offer to support shows on other channels. For example Zeebox picks up closed caption information to create ‘zeetags’ from keywords, linking out to sites like Wikipedia for more information.  Actor bios, definitions, location maps, news stories etc are all available within the app, even for shows not on Foxtel or Network 10.

How the companion app market develops in Australia is yet to be seen, but it’s likely that a non-affiliated or open platform companion app would reach a broader audience than those launched by the individual networks.

A New Way of Reaching a TV Audience

The fact that TV viewers are increasingly engaging with content outside of the broadcast platform presents an unprecedented opportunity for brands and advertisers.  All of a sudden there are multiple ways to reach the same viewers.  If your target audience is watching Ten’s local drama series Offspring, you can choose the traditional method of booking a 30 second commercial to air during an episode.  Or you can reach a group of passionate viewers as they engage with supporting content on Zeebox, discuss the show on Facebook, Tweet about it, check in to watch it on an iPhone app or any other of multiple companion services built up around the show.

Not one to miss an opportunity, earlier this year Twitter launched an ad product targeted to TV viewers called Promoted Tweets.  If you‘ve tweeted about a show, Twitter assumes you watched it, then identifies the ads that were aired during the show and allows the advertisers to retarget you with promoted tweets in the days and weeks following the broadcast. They use technology called video fingerprinting to track whenever an ad is shown and claim that using the retargeting product improves ad effectiveness.

By working with advertisers, a mobile campaign can be synchronized with booked TV slots to reach a targeted audience within minutes of a TV commercial airing.

Mobile ad networks are also investigating opportunities to target TV viewers during the airing of certain shows.  By working with advertisers, a mobile campaign can be synchronized with booked TV slots to reach a targeted audience within minutes of a TV commercial airing. The whole idea of synchronised advertising and companion apps make a lot of sense, and positioning the personal device as a supporting screen for the main viewing screen makes a lot of sense in the current environment.   But the market is changing.

TV is Not Live Anymore

Facebook and Twitter’s ad products and many of the companion apps base their approach around scheduling supporting content to coincide with a live broadcast. But broadcast TV is not necessarily live anymore.  Many people are watching TV on their smartphones or tablets at a time that suits them.   Although the numbers are not huge yet, catch up services are widely available and Australian audiences are turning to them in droves.  In Q2 of 2013, 7.5% of Australian broadcast TV was watched at a time AFTER the live broadcast, using a playback service.  This number is rising and will continue to rise as Australia’s traditional networks make Catch Up TV a standard part of their offering.  And increasingly, this audience is shifting their TV experience to another screen.

While Catch Up TV is not new, many of the local networks placed their initial focus on services to support the desktop screen.  In the last couple of years, accessibility has been rolled out gradually across the popular mobile and tablet devices. The ABC’s iView led the way in 2010 with its popular iPad catch up service, which was eventually followed up with iPhone support in mid 2012.  Launch of the ABC service was closely followed by SBS on Demand’s support for iOS devices, with Android ultimately added late this year (although on Samsung devices only).

Multi-screeners were more likely to stay in front of the TV for longer, remaining during ad breaks while engaged with their smartphone.

In fact all the Australian commercial TV networks have updated their catch up TV services this year.  Seven recently re-launched it’s existing Plus 7 service with support for iOS and Android devices and Nine updated its existing social media app JumpIn to include full episodes of many shows for iOS users.  Meanwhile Ten completely overhauled it’s approach to catch-up TV with the launch of TENPlay in September, bringing it more in line with the comprehensive offerings of ABC and SBS. As with JumpIn from Nine, Tenplay does not yet support Android devices, which is clearly a more complex deliverable than iOS support.

It does however look like the Australian market is not far from having a catch up offering across most Australian Free To Air broadcast content, supporting the vast majority of popular devices. It’s been slow to get here, but in 2014 we should see significant growth in awareness and changing viewer habits.

ABC iviewTenplay SBS on demand

According to the Nielsen Multi-Screen Report for Q2 2013 Australians now spend just over 2 hours per month watching online video (including broadcast and non broadcast) on their mobile devices.   That’s compared to over 96 hours per month for traditional TV, but the numbers are rising and young people (18 – 24) are watching as much as 13 hours per month.  This should give us a good idea of the usage trends ahead of us.

It certainly raises the question of how we can effectively track live views of TV shows for rating purposes. If audiences are choosing to watch shows at their own convenience, how are we to evaluate the accuracy of live broadcast TV ratings measurement? In response to these developing trends, Nielsen recently announced they will add streaming viewers to their TV audience measurement ratings and in October they launched a combined initiative with Twitter to rank TV shows based on Twitter conversations.  (Interestingly there was no correlation between high rating TV shows and high Twitter usage. )

What is interesting about catch up TV viewing habits is that they appear to follow those of ordinary TV viewing.  The way we watch catch up TV builds through the day and peaks in the evening prime time period.   Although we have introduced greater flexibility and scope to our TV relationship, we still engage with the traditional TV set within many of the same, familiar paradigms.

Social Buzz and Second Screens Keep Live Alive

Although there is a growing trend of scheduling TV content at our own convenience, social media and second screen services have reignited some of the  old fashioned buzz around shared, live television experiences.  In fact sometimes the social pull of a shared experience, rather than the content itself, is a stronger driver to watch a live TV event. Research from Thinkbox and COG identified that the social buzz around TV shows meant that people were going out of their way to watch shows and episodes live so they could participate in the second screen experience in the moment.

Research from think box

Another interesting discovery from the Thinkbox/COG research is that multi-screening keeps audiences present during ad breaks.  Multi-screeners were more likely to stay in front of the TV for longer, remaining during ad breaks while engaged with their smartphone. The researchers also tested creative recall from audiences who were engaged with a second screen with a TV on in the background.  Interestingly they found no significant difference in recall.  Viewers watching only TV had the same ad recall and recognition as the viewers who were distracted with a second screen.

The Future of Television

Television of the future is unlikely to reflect the mass distribution broadcast model we have all grown up with.  With TV sets getting smarter every day and shows increasingly being watched on a wide variety of devices, the market is diversifying and fragmenting.   What seems clear is that our expectations around video content are changing.  Audiences are increasingly expecting a certain amount of control over the viewing experience.  Not only that, but they expect to have a relationship with a show and are no longer content to simply sit back and consume.  Whether that interaction is with the TV itself, a second screen or some other technology yet to be invented, there is no doubt the future of TV is interactive.

The device that currently holds the monopoly on social engagement and interaction is the smartphone, with tablets not far behind.  Regardless of which is the second screen, those who best enable the relationships between people, TV shows and their audiences will be in the best position to ride the TV revolution.   Right now, if producers, advertisers, content writers, networks and broadcasters are not putting smart screen interaction at the core of their planning, they are already falling behind.


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