The Real Benefit Of The Second Screen
The myth that television is a passive medium is just that: a myth. People eat while they watch TV. Abigail Carroll did an excellent job recently of detailing this symbiotic relationship in her Salon article, "TV makes us fat!"
So the most obvious benefit of the second screen should be a material decline in the Gross Domestic Weight (“GDW”) of the United States and an inversion of the correlation between Nielsen rating and BMI. You can’t hold a Hoagie/Hero/Sub while texting or writing an email.
But upon further reflection, the real benefit of the second screen may be a little less obvious.
It’s not surprising that people are doing something else while they watch TV. People would have been texting and browsing and ordering from Amazon a lot earlier if any of those had been invented. Now that they are, the only question is how to reap the greatest benefit from this behavior.
What a television producer hopes is that people are doing something somehow related to the show they are allegedly “watching.” The idea that the viewer is NOT WATCHING MY SHOW is threatening (to ego if nothing else). There is much anxiety about this because in their hearts they know that most people are texting, browsing, and ordering merchandise related to something else, like ordering a pizza via their smart phone.
But while a producer may never stop worrying, advertisers should stop worrying. When coupled with audio fingerprinting, the second screen is going to be a great benefit and of great interest to advertisers. It will be O.K. if the viewer is texting or doing email and not looking up the filmography of the star on IMDb.
The display advertising in email normally commands a relatively low CPM. But if the viewer is doing email while watching TV, audio fingerprinting can identify the TV show they are watching and serve them directly relevant ads. Now that the second screen knows that the viewer is a member of the TV viewing audience, the value of the ad banner inventory in that email session instantly becomes targeted and of immediate interest to the advertiser who is paying real dollars for TV ads in that show. The value of email impressions created by that viewer at that exact moment in time should instantly increase by several multiples.
Once the correlation has been drawn, an instant arbitrage opportunity exists for the operator no matter which second screen is being used or what it is being used for. Force-tuning the second screen to the webpage of the show being watched is an invasive and weak application of the technology. Increasing the potential value of the ad inventory wherever the viewer is and whatever they are doing is real money for those who are capable of establishing the correlation.
This arbitrage opportunity should be of interest not only to the advertisers who are already buying inventory in the relevant TV show. It should also be of interest to competitors of those advertisers who can purchase this “adjacency” positioning at a comparatively low CPM. The benefit to the consumer is less “Lose 20 Pounds in 20 Minutes” display ads and more of an experience with continuity and reduced noise. That’s a good thing.
This ad arbitrage opportunity is an extension of the larger concept of the “Internet of Things.” But instead of creating a virtual presence for each device in the online ecosystem, the real-world device creates an ad-hoc virtual network online by connecting devices in the real world. The value of content, ad inventory, and information available via these ad-hoc networks changes dynamically depending on what network the viewer is connected to at any given point in time: which second screen and activity is creating what virtual network.
The MVPD that is both the distributor of television that viewers are watching and the provider of online services they are using in its role as ISP is uniquely positioned to create and exploit the benefits of these virtual networks, created by the second screen. And that’s a real benefit.