Watching TV today is a very different experience from the days of old. Many people not only consume their favorite shows, but simultaneously comment about them on their preferred social networks and check in on their second screen apps.

Viewers are “second screening” on their mobile phones and tablets, with nearly half of smartphone (46%) and tablet (43%) owners using their devices as second screens while watching TV everyday. Tablets are especially suited for this activity; according to Forrester, 85% of tablet owners in the U.S. use their tablets while watching TV, and 30% of total tablet usage time is spent in front of the tube.

This puts a lot of pressure on both broadcasters and marketers. For the former, the bread and butter of their income – selling commercial airtime – is being disrupted, as viewers are paying more attention to their gadgets than to the commercials being run. The same issue exists for marketers, as it has become more difficult to grab viewers’ attention to promote their products and services.

Let’s take a look at the primary ways viewers are interacting with TV and what broadcasters and marketers should do to make sure their messages are seen and heard.

The Second Screen App Landscape


Twitter is by far the most popular second screen “app”, with the company reporting that 95% of all live TV conversations happen on the social network. Some of the most tweeted events ever, including Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win and Barack Obama’s re-election, were linked to TV broadcasts. And while other live shows like sporting events and award ceremonies drive the highest tweet rates, some popular scripted series also see a strong level of Twitter activity. Twitter streams at the bottom of the screen during shows are commonplace, as are hashtags and Twitter handles on commercials promoting these shows.

Acknowledging this, Twitter has built a business around social TV, outlining a very clear strategy for what they want to accomplish. Executing on that strategy, the company has launched Twitter Amplify to develop advertising partnerships with content providers, media companies, and marketers to deploy campaigns leveraging the second screen. Blue chip companies such as Viacom, Turner Sports, A&E, Bloomberg, MLB, the PGA Tour, and Warner Music have already jumped on board.

The Other Guys

There are a bunch of other companies taking advantage of the second screen phenomenon with dedicated mobile applications.

GetGlue is an iPad app that was originally launched as a way to check in to TV shows (think Foursquare for TV) and interact with fellow viewers. But now the company has expanded to helping users discover TV shows, streaming content, and even movies in which they’d be interested.

Viggle, similar to GetGlue, allows viewers to check in to TV shows, but for the purpose of earning points which can be redeemed for rewards. Viggle actually agreed to acquire GetGlue last November, but the deal was called off in January.

Zeebox is another second screen app that allows viewers to find out more about and interact with others around their favorite shows. The company has struck deals with broadcasters such as NBC Universal, Viacom, and HBO to provide viewers with exclusive content on the app.

Other third-party apps like Miso and IntoNow offer similar functionality. Multi-system operators (MSOs) such as AT&T and Dish Network have created their own apps, and broadcasters CBS and USA have developed second screen applications specifically for their shows (see here and here, respectively).

Needless to say, it’s a crowded space.

What are Broadcasters and Marketers To Do?

The second screen phenomenon is alive and kicking. Though broadcasters and marketers have embraced it to some extent, they need to take their efforts a step further to better understand their viewers and grow the bottom line. Here are four ways they can take advantage of this change in viewing behavior.

1) Make the “Build or Buy” Decision

As mentioned above, some MSOs and broadcast networks decided to build their own second screen applications. This option gives the media entity full control over app functionality, the user experience, and maybe most importantly, advertising revenue.

But if you build it, will they come? Third-party apps like GetGlue and Viggle already have relatively large and engaged user bases that broadcasters can leverage, instead of taking on the daunting task of building an audience themselves. But broadcasters sacrifice control of the user experience and a portion of advertising revenue if they choose to work with third parties.

Broadcasters need to determine which strategy – build or “buy” – is best for their audience and coffers, and marketers will have to follow along with this decision.

2) Create Additional Audience Metrics

Twitter has been investigating ways to create a “Twitter TV rating” to accompany the standard Nielsen rating. While this may help broadcasters and marketers understand how Twitter impacts viewership, they still need to analyze data from all the other second screen platforms and applications on which they’re executing campaigns. Taking a holistic perspective of viewership numbers across all screens, instead of focusing on the Nielsen ratings as they’ve done for so long, will help broadcasters better understand who is watching and why (regardless of which screen they’re using), which will in turn help marketers better engage and sell to these viewers.

3) Get “In Sync” to Monetize

Simply facilitating conversations and providing exclusive content on second screens won’t be enough. In order for broadcasters and marketers to truly take advantage of this new viewing behavior, what’s happening on TV and on the second screen should be synchronized.

Companies like Watchwith, Flingo, and Second Screen Networks are attacking this sync-to-broadcast space, which allows viewers to sync their second screen experience with what’s on the tube that very moment. This allows broadcasters (and therefore marketers) to extend content from the TV to second screen applications and surround the viewer with a single, outstanding message. Broadcasters have begun to dabble in this space, but many more need to embrace sync-to-broadcast to better monetize their content.

4) Use Data to Determine Programming

There is a tremendous amount of insight that can be gleaned from second screen engagement data, and broadcasters should leverage this to understand the types of programming they should develop for their viewers.

Netflix used this big data approach for their original program “House of Cards”, analyzing their 33 million worldwide users’ actions and preferences to virtually ensure that the show would be a hit.

It’s a bit more difficult for TV broadcasters to get down to the level of granularity that Netflix achieved, but analyzing second screen data is a good starting point. Assessment of second screen engagement data can help broadcasters understand what aspects of what shows are popular, what topics drive viewership, and which writers, directors, and actors are more engaging with viewers. This will help determine what programming broadcasters should pursue, with hopes of building large audiences that marketers will covet.

It’s evident that the second screen landscape is crowded, complex, and constantly changing. MSOs, networks, large digital entities and startups all want a piece of the action, and new technologies continue to sprout and alter the scene. The bottom line is that second screen behavior is here to stay, and broadcasters and marketers need to embrace the change and stay on top of the newest trends to monetize this phenomenon.

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