Back To The Future: TV Is My New Radio

“Who is that, and what the hell is she wearing?” my daughter asked as the NBC Super Bowl pre-game show started with some country-like bleached blonde in silver lame pants singing the unctuous intro. I had a vague memory of this woman, but I was clueless. And this was only the first of countless times in the next few hours I couldn’t ID someone who clearly the rest of the country knew as a celebrity.

“What the…?” My wife joined in as she walked into this scene. Twenty seconds into Super Bowl and my family was already feeling like aliens dropped into a strange culture. Of course, it didn’t help that my wife was carrying her stab at Super Bowl food – vegetarian nachos with organic blue corn chips, Newman brand salsa, organic refried beans, no-hormone sour cream.

“I think we may really be in for it this time,” I warned.

“We are so not a Super Bowl family,” my wife added.

I had assembled the tribe for an experiment in second screening the big event. They had their respective devices at the ready to pursue the on-air call-outs for mobile complements and monitoring companion apps like Shazam. I think the silver  pants pretty much set the wrong tone.

When my wife asked which teams were playing, I had to say sheepishly that I honestly didn’t know.

“We’re going to miss ‘Downton Abbey’ for this?“ she lamented. “Don’t you have that picture-in-picture thing? We could watch the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet too.”

“Oh, the puppies!” they both whined in cutsey baby pet voices.

Wow, was this Super Sunday going south fast.

 “Look, the Sistine Chapel,” says my daughter, displaying her iPad with a 360-view of Michelangelo’s work. She was already onto her favorite iOS app, StumbleUpon. The family project was pretty much over before kickoff. It was up to Dad to soldier on.

Indeed, the second-screen experiences I juggled this Sunday were just OK without being especially compelling. I have written elsewhere on Mobile Marketing Daily about the early reports on mobile metrics from the game and opinions by me and mobile marketing professionals about all of this.

Here, let’s talk about the synchronized second screens in apps like Chevy Gametime, IntoNow, Shazam and Umami.

Chevy GameTime was designed as a smartphone and tablet app that offered a review of the Chevy ads themselves as well as a batch of light trivia questions, promotional tie-ins for discounts with select marketing partners, and an ever-changing display of factoids. According to NPD’s report on smartphone engagement, the apps actually netted about 2.5% of smartphone users during the game, second only to Shazam. Personally, I think locking a user within a brand during the game is an overreach. Wouldn’t the world be a better place when brands are brave enough to truly sponsor a second-screen experience that reflects the full onsite experience? Still, what worked well about the app was its light content touch. It didn’t overwhelm the user with distractions. There were just a few main content elements, and updates were signaled visually by a vertical flip of the tablet app. While the experience was limited in the extreme, the overall format was thoughtful on a number of levels. 

Umami, which is newer to the second-screen game, is good for background data on shows. It did a fair job of pulling in content for the respective teams, with discussions and ESPN’s play-by-play analysis. This model feels like a template, but prime-time programming may be all some viewers want. It is low-maintenance and plugs you into current discussions.

IntoNow has been pumping up its contextually aware second screening to good effect. When its audio ID detects different genres of shows like sports or news, it feeds different material. In the case of the Super Bowl, it was pulling in thousands of its own discussions, relevant Twitter feeds, real-time game stats -- and, most helpfully, feeds with on-demand reviews of the ads. In terms of a rich second-screen experience, IntoNow won the day, but almost to a fault. For someone like me, pretty much disconnected from the game play itself, it was very easy to pick up this app in between commercials and play about. And because the app was always on, it could do tricks like auto-register you for the Pepsi MAX sweepstakes when the ad came on-air.

At some point in mid-game, and before Madonna wrenched everyone back to the first screen, TV had become much like radio. We were only tangentially attached to the main narrative on screen and more absorbed in smartphones and tablets. TV, even the Super Bowl, could be relegated to background content.

Shazam’s game-like approach to second screening engages the viewer differently. It “Shazam-enabled” about half the ads so that the viewer had to tap the listening mode at the right time to get the complementary material. According to NPD, the approach, and Shazam’s advance PR, was relatively successful. The company says that about 3.5% of smartphone users were tuning into this app.

I won’t argue with success, but I can’t say I'm entirely in the tank with the idea of having to chase ads with audio ID tools. The results of tagging an ad correctly could be good, but they were uneven. Was linking to its chat page and a YouTube ad the best that Pepsi Max really could do for someone tagging their ad? Even GE gave you a richer payback.Props to Bud Light, which made up for poor commercials with a halftime sponsorship on Shazam that gave you a free download and served up links to Madonna’s singles, the halftime playlist, etc.

I will admit that Shazam’s chase-the-ad model was good sport the first time, but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it. And I think sponsors who have us tag an ad in a mobile complement had best deliver something worthwhile. We don’t want TV tagging and second screening to take on the uneven reputation of QR codes. Once the novelty wears off, both the sponsors and their intermediary second screen apps better deliver more than most of them did last Sunday.

But the experience of second screening across these apps raised for me a few larger issues. First, there is a curious disconnect between the tech-driven, Website-like consoles of IntoNow and Shazam and the immersiveness of TV. Granted, the second screen is designed for interactivity, and this requires interfaces and layouts that are not TV-like. But when a sponsor’s message has to be pulled into Shazam’s underwhelming template of tiny hotlinks in the same interface, you get the sense that the richness of the tablet/smartphone screen needs to work harder to feel connected to the TV experience. This should be an invitation to play with interfaces, with letting complementary content pour onto and fill a screen, to depart from nav bars and Web aesthetics.

And while I won’t hold my family up as a good example of fidelity to the secular faith that is Super Bowl Sunday, it was extraordinarily easy for these parishioners in the back pews to turn the first screen into office daytime radio.

And it isn’t just the Super Bowl. On most evenings now, we all catch ourselves so absorbed in smartphones and tablets that something extreme on prime-time TV snaps us to attention and we ask, “What was that? Hit rewind, I missed that.”

I have three modes of TV viewing now. First is full multitasking where I am at least as engaged in a second screen as the first. In this case, TV is pretty much just cubicle radio. Conversely, if I have a show I truly want to experience in full, I have to make an effort to put the smartphone or tablet down and truly lean back. These cases are getting rarer. Finally, there is a new makeshift PIP mode. When I have something I want to attend to on TV without full investment, I now literally prop the tablet up on the arm of my chair so that I can interact with the display and keep the first screen in direct eyesight.

“What the hell?” my daughter asks of this new posture, as if I were the one in silver lame slacks singing faux-country. By mid-game she is already snapping shots of her Dad surrounded by five or six devices and posting to Facebook. Apparently, she thinks she was raised by the whack-job Doc Brown from "Back to the Future."

“Welcome to my world,” my wife tells her.

Put another banana peel in the DeLorean flux capacitor, ladies. This is what tomorrow’s living room looks like.  

Tags: mobile
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