SECOND SCREENS AND SOCIAL TV – Making waves in the broadcast world

Second screening is the new way to consume broadcast content, with companies beginning to look at ways to control the way consumers second screen – and how to make money out of it. George Cole provides an overview of this 21st century viewing trend.

Second screen is making waves in the broadcast, social media and video worlds. In essence, second screen involves using a second display device, like a smartphone, laptop or tablet, while watching television. Many people are now second screening: research by Nielsen found that 70% of tablet users and 68% of smartphone owners used their device while watching television.

“There are a lot of stats that show that a very large percentage of people who watch TV are doing it with a second screen on their lap,” says Chuck Parker, former Chief Commercial Officer of Technicolor. “Now there’s some debate about whether they are using the second screen for emailing or checking their bank balance, but there a large percentage who are on their Twitter feeds doing a realtime search on the TV show they’re watching or using Facebook to tell their friends what they’re watching. The TV and video industries are excited because this is a shift in consumer behaviour, and it’s probably the first time you can demonstrate to advertisers and content makers that real engagement is taking place.”

Social TV is a second screen activity. “Social TV is digital interaction between people about television content or their digital interaction with that content,” says Colin Donald, Director of research company Futurescape. He adds that the concept of Social TV is not new. “Television has always had a significant social dimension, as with viewing: together in the living room and having water cooler conversations at work. One key reason that Social TV participation is growing is because it meets some of our most fundamental social needs, such as self-expression and affiliation with others through shared cultural references.”

Dan Cryan, Senior Analyst, Head of Broadband Media, at media research company IHS Screen Digest, agrees: “You now have a collection of companies who are tapping into a very well established mode of behaviour, with media companies trying to engage with this and maintain their relevance on the second screen.” Jeremy Toeman, Chief Product Officer, Dijit Media, says, “We’re seeing a lot of attempts to digitally harness the chatter around TV, much as the early days of ‘social media’ attempted to capture conversations around a myriad of topics.”

A poll conducted by the digital marketing agency Digital Clarity of more than 1,300 people under the age of 25 in the UK found that 80% of those surveyed use a mobile device to communicate with friends while watching TV, with 72% using Twitter, Facebook or mobile applications, to actively comment on shows as they are watching them. In the US, a Nielsen/Yahoo study found that more than 86% of mobile internet users communicated with each other in real-time during TV broadcasts. Reggie James, founder of Digital Clarity, says, “TV shows with small audiences can generate enormous traffic on Twitter. Social TV is a new platform for engaging with a TV show and has turned TV programmes into online events.”

JOSTLING FOR POSITION

The Social TV market is being driven by several factors: the massive growth of social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, the wide availability of broadband in homes, and the vast sales of connected devices like smartphones and tablets. Futuresource Consulting says that global shipments of tablets reached 15.5 million units in Q3 2011, compared with 4.5 million for the same period in 2010 – Apple accounted for 70% of tablet shipments in the US.

Many see the tablet as the perfect form factor for second screen usage. “The tablet is the device for the living room and the most socially acceptable device,” says Ajay Shah, CEO of TV Plus, a TV web browser company. “The tablet screen is parallel to the ground, whereas the screen on a smartphone or laptop is perpendicular, and closed off from others.”

Many parties are jostling for position in the second screen market including broadcasters, film studios, television manufacturers, advertisers, social network sites, technology developers, and start-up companies developing apps for second screen activities. “New DNA is coming into the broadcast world,” notes Alex Terpstra, CEO of technology company Civolution. “Broadcasters tend not to innovate quickly, but start-ups develop things fast. It will be exciting to see how things go.”

Start-up company zeebox has developed a second screen app. A survey of 5,000 people by zeebox and Lightspeed found that most people still watch live television, rather than recorded, but that there was much dissatisfaction with the medium, says Anthony Rose, zeebox co-founder and CTO. “People are frustrated with live television because it hasn’t kept up with the pace of innovation. On a computer, you can use Skype, email and watch a video, but TV just beams out at you. We found that 57% got around this frustration by using a second screen, and of these, 60% were using the second screen for a programme-related activity, such as doing a Google search on an actor.”

Little wonder that some broadcasters and programme makers have developed apps, websites or platforms to cater for the second screen. HBO Connect is a Social TV platform for fans of HBO programmes, where they can sign-in using their Facebook or Twitter account and discuss HBO shows with others. Ten US broadcast groups, including Barrington, Hearst and Raycomm, have formed a partnership with Social TV start-up ConnecTV. The broadcasting groups cover 76 million households and more than 200 stations, such as ABC, CBS and Fox. UK commercial broadcasters ITV and Channel 4 are developing second screen apps.

“Television companies throughout the value chain have good reason to support Social TV because they see its potential to increase ratings and therefore advertising revenue; boost pay-TV and video-on-demand income, and also work with paid transactions, such as talent show voting and merchandise sales,” says Donald. In US TV, there are ad breaks 18 minutes in every hour, but this level of advertising is not possible on a second screen device, notes Aslam Khader, Chief Technology and Product Officer for technology company Ensequence. “And so finding a way to monetize the second screen audience is difficult. The content industry wants second screen to augment the TV experience and not replace it.”

Connected TV (also known as Smart TV) systems are increasingly incorporating Social TV: many connected TV sets have Facebook and Twitter apps pre-installed. Donald observes: “Pay- TV operators are upgrading their set-tops for Social TV functionality, while the Xbox and PlayStation game consoles have their own social networks and can access third-party social networks; major tech companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are providing the software to enable connected TV and, with it, Social TV.”

HOW IT WORKS

he technology behind second screen products and systems is often quite complex, not least because most rely on apps and the ability to synchronize the television program with the second screen device. Chuck Parker classifies second screen app functions into various types. The first, which he calls ‘Simple’, is designed to make the first screen easier to navigate, with functions like an advanced remote control. ‘Social’ integrates with the various social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. ‘Seamless’ integrates multiple services into the experience such as Hulu, Netflix, and an operator’s VOD service. ‘Stimulating’ creates a more in-depth experience with the TV content, such as sports stats, related news events, commerce experiences, and associated advertising. ‘Discovery’ provides relevant suggestions to content you might enjoy. Another app feature is ‘Search’. Most second screen apps offer several or more of these features.

The key to synchronizing the TV program and the second screen device is a system known as automatic content recognition or ACR. One system, audio watermarking, adds inaudible data to the soundtrack in a way that combines sound and data into a single entity. “The advantage is that wherever the sound goes the watermark goes,” says Civolution’s Alex Terpstra. The second screen device uses a built-in microphone to pick up the TV sound and combined watermark. Watermark detection software on the second screen device analyzes the sound, finds the watermark and can retrieve any information within it. This information could include a channel identifier or even a content identifier, so the second screen device knows, for example, that ‘I’m now syncing with The X-Factor on Channel 9’. The information also contains time codes, which enable the second screen device to remain in sync with the TV content.

Audio fingerprinting involves the second screen device picking up the TV sound, but this time, no extra information is added to the sound. Fingerprinting works by analyzing unique features from the content and comparing them to a database of reference fingerprints to find a match. Fingerprinting requires the second screen devices to generate fingerprints from the TV sound, which are matched against reference fingerprints, which are often stored in the cloud. “Watermarking requires modifying content, but fingerprinting requires a reference database and an infrastructure for second screen devices to be able to access it,” says Terpstra. In both ACR systems, there’s no requirement for the first and second screen devices to communicate with each other via an internet connection.

However, a third synchronization system involves the television and second screen device syncing with each other through a shared Wi-Fi connection, although this system is rarely used, as most TVs don’t have internet connectivity. Sony’s Blu-ray second screen system is known as a vertically controlled environment, and uses a shared Wi-Fi connection to sync the second screen device with a BD Live-enabled Blu-ray player. If Wi-Fi synchronization is unavailable, Sony offers a manual sync option. But not every second screen system relies on synchronization technology. Start-up company Starling has no plans to use synchronization, says its CEO Declan Caulfield. “When we examined what a sample of second screen users said about synchronization, it was interesting to note that many reactions were negative, especially if the synchronization technology didn’t work. It looks like magic when a device tells you what TV show you’re watching, but all it’s doing is telling you something you already know. When people come together to chat about a TV program, there’s already a high degree of synchronization between them.”

SECOND SCREENS AND DISCS

A number of Hollywood studios have also developed second screen-enabled Blu-ray titles, which come with extra content that is viewed on the second screen. The studios hope that by providing second screen content only on sell- through titles, consumers will purchase rather than rent. Disney has launched a handful of second screen titles including Bambi and Tron Legacy, while Universal’s second screen titles like Fast Five and Tower Heist use a pocket Blu app, which allows an iPhone to control the Blu-ray title, and gives access to extra content related to the movie. The pocket Blu app also works with an iPad, iPod Touch, Android smartphones and tablets, PCs and Macs.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Smurfs Blu-ray release offers Smurf-O-Vision second screen fun activities. The Weinstein Company’s The King’s Speech uses Technicolor’s MediaEcho second screen app for features such as bonus streaming audio and video content, audio commentary excerpts, behind the scenes information, actor profiles, connection to IMDB and other online databases, social media integration and e-commerce.

Jim Bottoms, Director, Futuresource Consulting, says that while he can see a compelling case for live TV shows embracing the second screen, the jury is still out for Blu-ray titles, “There’s a lot of experimentation going on – it’s like the early days of BD Live. The challenge is whether there’s something people can be doing that relates to the movie at the same time. It’s not proven that consumers want it.”

Some second screen apps, like Yahoo’s IntoNow, require second screen users to check-in and notify their friends what they’re watching, but most systems use what Shah describes as “deep engagement,” which can automatically connect users to others watching the same television show, for example, by displaying Twitter feeds related to the programme.

Cinram’s 1K Studios is developing a second screen app for Blu-ray titles, and Matt Kennedy, 1K Studios President, says that while second screen apps are currently used to support the TV content, he foresees a time when, “The app could provide the primary content on your second screen device, and the film on the television screen is the supporting content.”

Some wonder if second screen will turn out to be a fad or something that is used only by younger (under 35) consumers. But few think that second screen will disappear, and Shah says, “With most new technologies, it’s the young people who embrace it first. But then it spreads to adjacent demographics and beyond. Facebook started out with a college demographic – today, the fastest growing user base is people over 60.”

THE QUESTIONS REMAIN

Still many questions remain, including: who are the likely winners and losers in the second screen market? Shay Fan a member of the marketing team at Miso, a social TV platform, says, “Success will come when someone figures out the magic formula for ‘stickiness’ – something that will make users want to stay and interact with content. With so much competing for our attention, it will be a difficult, crowded industry.”

Toeman adds, “I think all the traditional players will remain winners for quite some time to come, it’s their game to lose really. This is a big challenging space, and I think success will come from the companies who best understand what consumers actually want to do with their time and how they enjoy watching TV. Those who are trying to shape or shift behaviours will have an uphill battle, as well as those who pay too much attention to hype, and not enough to reality.”

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