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App Developers Are Getting Personal

With TV channels now offering thousands of apps where consumers can view TV programming, developers will be flocking to the International CES in Las Vegas from Jan. 5-9 to survey the newest devices and features in app development.

To better engage consumers that frequently have scores of apps on their phones, developers working for programmers and operators said they are focusing on personalization, socialmedia tools, improved TV everywhere offerings and tools to help with better understanding of how consumers use various devices.

“Every platform is slightly different,” David Wertheimer, president of digital at Fox Broadcasting, said. “The Xbox viewer watches a different mix than the iOS tablet user. It creates a great opportunity to think about how we can better program, promote and design those products.”

That makes tools to understand consumer behavior increasingly important. “Better measurement is at the top of our list, as well as improved video-content discovery, personalization and the ability to improve engagement by allowing users to interact and share content,” Tamara Franklin, executive vice president of digital, Scripps Networks Interactive, said.

These tools are also crucial for the ongoing attempts to boost digital ad revenues. “Mobile is a big driver for growing consumption of video because everyone has a smartphone and a lot of people have a tablet,” Colleen Fahey Rush, executive vice president and chief research officer, Viacom Media Networks, said. “But as you’ve seen on the earnings calls this fall, a lot of people are frustrated that Nielsen is not keeping up with measuring how consumers are watching TV programming.”

Ashley Stull, senior director of product management, Adobe Primetime, added: “There really is a need to get a good currency in place.” Adobe recently formed an alliance with Nielsen to offer cross-platform measurement, she noted. “The intention is to provide publishers with the flexibility to use C3 or dynamic ad insertion or a mix of them.”


In developing new products for digital platforms, some of the hype around second-screen experiences synced to live television has dissipated. “A lot of the attempts have been forced or manufactured, and haven’t really added value in terms of the consumer experience,” Franklin said.

But others stress the importance of second-screen efforts, at least for some types of programming, particularly sports and reality. “We haven’t really changed our strategy for second screen,” Wertheimer said. “We continue to believe it is a great place for supporting content in the digital space and continue to invest heavily around our unscripted shows like American Idol that we will be bringing back in a big way in January.”

Added Ryan Spoon, senior vice president of digital product development at ESPN: “Fantasy football is probably the largest second-screen experience,” and the growing popularity of connected televisions will allow them to further improve.

Much of the focus on second-screen continues to revolve around mobile and social media. “Programmers are making a much bigger effort to integrate social conversations into their apps and to offer shareable content on the second screen that will help activate the first screen so that the mobile app will help drive engagement and tune-in on the TV set,” said Jonathan Weitz, partner at IBB Consulting, which works with a number of major companies on their apps.


Given the widespread availability of mobile devices, a number of companies are placing mobile at the center of their efforts. “I have a sign in my office that says there are 1.4 billion smartphones in the world,” Josh Cogswell, Viacom senior vice president of multiplatform product, said. “Mobile devices are really at the core of what our consumers and fans are doing. They have really become the digital hub of their lives.”

Univision Communications doesn’t look at mobile as a “second screen,” but as the center of its digital-content and streaming efforts, Scott Levine, senior vice president of production and technology for digital, said.

“Mobile has become the brains for a lot of experiences to bridge the gap between digital and TV,” he said. Because Univision’s Hispanic audiences are heavy users of mobile and social media, he added, “Social media is integrated into everything we do. It is part of everything we do on phones and you will see it on the TV,” with social media feeds covering the bottom third of the screen on the programmer’s Univision Deportes channel.

Personalization is another top priority, Weitz and other app developers said. “Personalizing our sports apps was one of the big things that made them click,” Marc DeBevoise, executive vice president and general manager of entertainment, sports and news at CBS Interactive, said. Based on that success, CBSI has since added tools to personalize its entertainment apps.

To make it easier for users to get right to the content they want, programmers are also coming up with novel ways to integrate live and on-demand experiences. CBSN, the company’s new streaming news channel, for example, immediately serves up its live stream when the app is launched, DeBevoise said. But it also designed the CBSN app so that users can quickly switch back and forth between live and on-demand content.

Alex Wellen, chief product officer at CNN, said that during the development of the CNN Go app, the company worked to blur the line between live and on-demand as part of a larger effort to reimagine what the viewing and TV experience might be like.

“The first step was to take the TV broadcast and break it down into its core components so that people could watch whatever segment they wanted whenever they wanted,” he said. “Then if they find a segment they’re interested in, they can access the full editorial power of CNN and get all the context around that.”

In addition, the delivery of content has been greatly speeded up. “The goal was to improve the value proposition by providing a context and all the other information around the live feed … so people could come in very quickly and find things related to what is happening or even is about to happen,” he said.


Integrating social and second-screen experiences is also becoming more important for multichannel operators. GW Shaw, vice president of U-verse and video product marketing at AT&T, explains that the telco developed a second-screen poker app where subscribers can play poker with their friends in the living room.

The operator also created an app that allows users to turn to their mobile device to pose questions to “a major sports personality about what is happening on a game they’re watching and get back live responses,” Shaw said.

Operators are also putting more focus on live viewing in their app development, said Vito Forlenza, senior director of TV Everywhere content and product strategy at Comcast Cable, which currently offers about 300,000 on-demand titles and some 75 live channels on its TV Everywhere products.

“Live viewing constitutes about 30% of the hours viewed on our TV Everywhere platform,” he said. “It is growing quickly and will be a major focus for us next year.”