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App Developers Go for the Personal Touch

With TV channels now offering thousands of apps where consumers can view TV programming, developers will be flocking to the International Consumer Electronics Show 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 at programmers and operators say they are focusing on personalization, social media tools, improved TV Everywhere offerings and tools to help with better understanding of how consumers use various devices.

“Every platform is slightly different,” says David Wertheimer, president of digital at Fox Broadcasting. “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,” says Tamara Franklin, executive VP, digital, Scripps Networks Interactive.

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,” says Colleen Fahey Rush, executive VP, chief research officer, Viacom Media Networks. “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.”

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

Beyond the Second Screen

In developing new products for digital platforms, some of the hype around secondscreen 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,” says Franklin.

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,” says Wertheimer. “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.”

Adds Ryan Spoon, senior VP 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. “Second-screen and social are really growing areas,” says Jonathan Weitz, partner at IBB Consulting, which works with a number of major companies on their apps. “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.”

Social at the Hub

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,” says Josh Cogswell, Viacom senior VP of multiplatform product. “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.”

Scott Levine, senior VP of production and technology for digital at Univision Communications agrees, adding that they don’t look at mobile as a “second screen” as much as the center of their efforts for streaming and digital content.

“Mobile has become the brains for a lot of experiences to bridge the gap between digital and TV,” he says. Because their Hispanic audiences are heavy users of mobile and social media, he adds that, “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 their Univision Deportes channel. Personalization is another top priority, Weitz and other app developers say.

“Personalizing our sports apps was one of the big things that made them click,” says Marc DeBevoise, executive VP/GM of entertainment, sports and news at CBS Interactive. Based on that success, they have since added tools to personalize their 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, for example, immediately serves up its live stream when the app is launched, DeBevoise says. But they also designed the app for the new streaming video channel so that users can quickly switch back and forth between live and on-demand content.

Alex Wellen, chief product officer, CNN notes that during the development of the CNN Go app they 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 says. “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. “If we have first pictures from a story, you won’t have to wait until they’re on the TV screen,” he says. “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.”

Multichannel Development

Integrating social and second-screen experiences is also becoming more important for multichannel operators. GW Shaw, VP of U-verse and video product marketing at AT&T, explains that they developed a second-screen poker app where subscribers can play poker with their friends in the living room. “The Uverse TV screen is the poker table and your mobile device becomes your hand,” he says.

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 says.

Operators are also putting more focus on live viewing in their app development, says 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 says. “It is growing quickly and will be a major focus for us next year.”


During CES, TV app developers will be paying particularly close attention to these tech trends:

The Mobile Hub. Programmers and operators are looking at mobile devices less as a second screen and more as a hub for a much wider array of activities, and are placing more emphasis on smartphones, which are becoming increasingly important.

Personalization. As more content becomes available on apps, personalization tools will play a key role in helping consumers quickly access the content they want.

Social Media. Programmers are finding more sophisticated ways to use social media to boost engagement and drive viewership in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Measurement. With TV viewing on mobile devices still not measured, technologies for tracking that viewing are a top priority.

Upgraded TV Everywhere Apps. The industry is making a major push to improve TV Everywhere apps with more live content, easier authentication and other features.