How do you get viewers to watch more programs and ads on their TVs? In recent years, the answer to that question has increasingly been to get them to double their viewing pleasure by turning on their tablets or smartphones and fire up a second-screen app or companion app.
These apps sync up live or recorded TV programming with additional programming, content and ads that are delivered to mobile phones, tablets and other second screens. Over time, these apps could allow programmers to tap into the growing usage of mobile devices in a way that will increase viewership, better promote their networks, boost ad revenue, create new e-commerce opportunities and, best of all, tightly integrate the traditional TV business into the rapidly growing digital world.
This idea is nothing new-sync apps or companion apps have been around since the mid-2000s. But the proliferation of tablets and smartphones in the last two years has produced a flurry of activity both from programmers and outside companies such as GetGlue, Zeebox, ConnecTV, IntoNow, Shazam, Viggle, Miso and others.
"It feels like this is the Wild West for second-screen apps," says Susie Fogelson, senior VP of marketing, creative services and brand strategy for Food Network. "Every day someone is coming along with new technology and new commerce or revenue opportunities that are unbelievably exciting."
Much of this excitement reflects skyrocketing ownership of smartphones and tablets and their widespread use to view TV programming. In a report issued last week, Nielsen found that 85% of smartphone and tablet owners use them at least once a month while watching TV, and that 41% of tablet and 39% of smartphone owners used them daily while watching TV during the second quarter of 2012.
Among younger users, nearly half of all smartphone owners age 18- 24 have them on while watching TV, but this isn't just a young person's play. Around 40% of tablet owners age 55-64 were using them at least once a day while tuned in.
That has already translated into some significant usage around big events, sports, news, reality and competition shows. For example, CBS' Grammy Live second-screen app generated some 13 million social mentions for the February 2012 event, more than the Super Bowl, notes Marc DeBevoise, senior VP and general manager of CBS Interactive's entertainment division.
Given the increasing role social media plays in the promotion of TV programming, these apps can also generate significant buzz. For the launch of The Next Iron Chef, Food Network worked with Yahoo's IntoNow on a second-screen effort that produced some 50 million impressions across Yahoo properties.
But Fogelson and 15 other TV and digital media executives interviewed by B&C also stress that the development of second-screen apps is still in its infancy.
While broadcasters look for millions of viewers on the big TV screen, many developers and programmers are pleased when their second-screen efforts attract a few hundred thousand users for a specific event or episode.
"Right now, the promise is there more than the reality," says Ben Carlson, president and cofounder of Fizziology, which monitors social media conversations for advertisers. "I don't think any of them have connected with the large audiences advertisers want on a regular basis."
As programmers work to expand the reach of these efforts, they also face a number of tough choices. Programmers can develop those apps in-house, which can be costly but also allows them to keep tighter control over their brand and advertising. Or they can partner with one of the many companies offering apps or social TV services.
CBS has been aggressively using social media to promote its shows. The network created a CBS.com/connect page to aggregate that social media activity, notes DeBevoise. This fall, CBS launched a secondscreen app for NCIS: Los Angeles that he says "could be a precursor of what we might do with multiple shows."
But the broadcaster has no immediate plans to set up a wide-ranging partnership with one of the second-screen players. "If someone emerges with lots and lots of traffic, then that might be interesting," DeBevoise says. "But today there isn't enough usage to justify joining a third-party platform for something we could be monetizing ourselves."
Other programmers are partnering with second-screen players as a way to reach wider audiences. Page Thompson, executive VP of strategic integration for NBCUniversal, says the company's networks are working closely with Zeebox on their secondscreen efforts. "We don't think people want to fire up a different app every time they change the channel," Thompson says.
NBCU, which recently made an investment in Zeebox, has already worked with the company to "enhance more than 300 NBCU shows," Thompson says. NBCU will also be aggressively promoting the app with on-air ads and is working with Zeebox to add additional features to shows including The Voice, Grimm and Real Housewives.
Other investors in Zeebox include NBCU parent Comcast, Viacom and BSkyB in the U.K. says Jason Forbes, executive VP and managing director of Zeebox USA, which is also working with HBO on second-screen efforts.
"Next year, you will see this shift from an early adopter activity to a mainstream activity, and you will see us be able to do much more interesting stuff on these platforms," says Harleen Kahlon, senior VP of digital at Oxygen Media, which has started working closely with Zeebox and is planning extensive second-screen applications for the launch of its reality show The Face next year.
Other major players are also improving their offerings for what is promising to be an intensely competitive 2013 second-screen landscape.
GetGlue, which has "built up a vibrant community of 3 million fans discussing TV shows and movies," is moving on a number of fronts to improve its features and business models, says Alex Iskold, the company's founder and CEO. These will include better features for content discovery, additional content to enhance the second-screen experience and more compelling advertising opportunities.
As part of an attempt to show the value of its application, GetGlue recently released data showing that "the amount of social activity on Get- Glue around scripted programming is either on par with or outperforms Twitter," Iskold says. Last summer, social media activity on GetGlue outperformed Twitter on nine of the 10 highest-rated cable shows.
Meanwhile, ConnecTV is very close to releasing the 2.0 version of its app, which will include a number of major new features offering a unified platform across online, tablet and smartphone devices, reports Ian Aaron, the company's cofounder.
The application already offers second-screen content "across 400 channels," Aaron says. ConnecTV has partnered with a number of major TV station groups to develop second-screen features for local news and programming. "We have already activated local networks in the top 50 markets," Aaron adds.
Yahoo-not to be denied-is putting more resources behind its IntoNow app, which has been downloaded nearly 5 million times.
Shazam also continues to expand its efforts. David Jones, executive VP of marketing at Shazam, notes that more than a quarter of a billion people worldwide have used its app and that its Shazam for TV service now covers every show on more than 60 channels in the U.S.
As second-screen providers look to improve their offerings, one key development will be tighter integration between second-screen apps and TV Everywhere efforts. As Zeebox rolls out the new version of its app this month, Comcast subscribers will be able to use it to change channels. "That is a first for a second-screen app," says Thompson.
That will provide programmers with a direct way to see a payoff from their social media efforts because Zeebox highlights shows that are trending higher on social media. "That will really benefit brands like VH1 and MTV because we are nearly always in the top of what is being tweeted about and talked about," says Kristin Frank, general manager of digital media for MTV and VH1.
Another major development will be the expansion of commerce applications. FX's Sons of Anarchy app includes features that allow users to buy merchandise from the show. Fox recently expanded on that idea with its Fox Now companion app, which lets viewers buy merchandise tied to its New Girl sitcom.
Commerce is also a key part of Zeebox's plans. The company recently started working with NBCU and American Express to sell merchandise tied to various Bravo, E! and Style shows. It is also working on richer ad experiences tied to ads on linear TV. "You will see a number of advertisers from NBCU and Viacom stepping up with enhanced advertising experiences," Forbes says.
Turner recently began working with Hasbro to offer richer ads on its TBS Presents: The Big Bang Theory app that are tied to the TV show's spots, reports Dennis Adamovich, senior VP of brand and digital activation at Turner Broadcasting. "Down the road, that will allow users to download a coupon or even buy a ticket for a movie," he says.
Erik Flannigan, executive VP, digital media at the Viacom Entertainment Group agrees. He notes that there are many advertisers interested in offering additional content on a second screen, such as a tablet, to complement the ad they are airing on TV.
Today, this is particularly attractive for big events like the MTV Video Music Awards, but Flannigan cautions that in general, second-screen apps need to build up larger audiences before programmers can see a significant payback in terms of increased ad revenue.
"The second screen is definitely here [in terms of people using tablets and smartphones while watching TV], but second-screen apps are still in their infancy," he says, later adding, "We have to work on the right consumer experience and drive enough adoptions so that audiences can be at scale for advertising."
Flannigan also stresses that programmers have to find compelling content for the second-screen efforts. "There has to be a good reason for it to exist," he says. "There are only so many polls that consumers will want to respond to."
Others note that there are still a lot of questions about the right content. "I think there are more questions than answers at this point," says Food Network's Fogelson. "I think everyone is still testing the water as to what kind of content really enhances the viewing experience. What is the right volume of content? How much content is too much?"
This can be particularly tricky for scripted programs, where additional content may distract the viewers. "We really want people to focus on watching what is on the TV screen and provide something that is really integrated into what is happening on the screen," notes CBS' DeBevoise.
So for the NCIS: Los Angeles companion app, CBS worked closely with the show's producers and writers to create extra content, such as details and photos of the crime scene that would carry fans deeper into the show.
Such efforts could be time consuming and costly to expand across their entire line-up, however. "I'm not sure that we can do it for 40 shows a year but on the key ones, if we have the right production partners, there is a real opportunity there," he says.
Programmers also need to think about second-screen efforts early in the production process, argues Frank at MTV and VH1. "There needs to be engagement early on in thinking how the story line will play out," she says.
She also believes that it's important to "make the ad feel like it is an extension of the story....If you want to bring an advertiser along, the earlier the better. You don't want to just plaster a brand [on the second screen] that doesn't feel integrated."
One way of doing that is through product placement or branded advertising. Integrating products into the story lines of telenovelas is something that has gone on for decades and Peter Blacker, executive VP of digital media and emerging business at Telemundo Media, sees it as an important opportunity for second-screen applications.
"We already have a strong business in the world of branded entertainment and having clients take a role in our primetime shows," he says. "So we've been able to go to them and talk about being involved in a second-screen opportunity because they are already embedded in the show. It is an easier relationship for us to forge compared to someone who is just going out to the marketplace and saying we have some second-screen apps that you should be involved in."
Telemundo and others have also been active in creating custom content for their online and second-screen efforts.
Aimee Viles, senior VP, emerging media, at Bravo Media notes that this content, when carefully integrated into the show, can actually boost linear TV ratings. For its Top Chef program, for example, Bravo created a digital companion series, Last Chance Kitchen, which followed some of the contestants who had been knocked off the TV show.
"It generated 8 million streams and was the most successful [Web series] for NBCUniversal ever," Viles explains. More importantly, the winner of the Last Chance Kitchen was allowed back on Top Chef for the finale, which created significant buzz for the telecast.
"That was our highest-rated episode of the season," she says.
Apps: A Big Election-Night Winner
Close ties between TV and second-screen content helps explain why some major events, such as sports and news, have been among of the biggest second-screen successes.
That was especially true during this year's election campaigns, where there is a natural tie between broadcast coverage on the TV screen and the additional data or video feeds that can be delivered to smartphones, tablets and other Internet-connected devices.
Not surprisingly, news apps were widely used during the campaign season. A recent survey conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates found that 85% of app users used an app to follow the campaign with 69% relying on a news app.
A separate survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that on election night 27% followed the election on both a TV and an Internet-connected device, with that proportion rising 39% for those ages 18-39.
While detailed breakdowns of usage of second-screen apps on Election Night aren't available, many broadcast networks streamed their live election coverage and reported extensive usage of their news apps.
MobiTV, for example, saw viewership on Internet-connected devices among its clients running about seven times the standard figures on November 6. "We are definitely seeing people use these devices to complement what they are viewing on the TV," says Rick Herman, chief strategy officer at MobiTV.
Ustream, which was streaming election coverage from CBS, PBS and other news organizations, also saw significant increases in usage. "There were 3 million to 4 million people" using Internet-connected devices at Ustream during the major election events, notes the company's CEO and founder, Brad Hunstable, though he believes that these devices constituted the "first screen" for many users. "We are seeing massive usage."
Sports is another area with a natural tie between televised coverage and additional information that can be fed to a second screen.
Matt Hong, senior vice president and general manager of sports operations for Turner Sports notes that they have developed second-screen apps that allow fans for NASCAR, the PGA and other sports to access different cameras and feeds.
"The nature of sports is that there is always a fan desire for content to supplement what is going on during the main telecast," he says.
This also opens up additional opportunities for sponsors. "The level of engagement with the sponsor is much deeper on these platforms," Hong adds.
That's why he believes some of the most interesting developments for second-screen apps will be in the sports arena in 2013. "Sports have always been on the forefront of a lot of this because there is an insatiable appetite for additional access," he says.
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow
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