Commentary

Love And The Second Screen

"You're not paying attention, you're iPadding," my fiancée argues while we watch TV. I am "missing all the good stuff."

"You have your face in your laptop," I counter.

"It is lined up with the TV screen, I can see both at once. You have your nose down in the iPad. You can't see both at once."

This is where we are in America (or at least the small piece of America on which my living room resides). We bicker over who is distracted least by our media multitasking.

"How are we supposed to talk about these movies and shows and communicate about shared experiences if you're not watching?" she says more pointedly.

Well, somehow this little bicker over second-screen etiquette escalated to Yellow Alert: serious issues, incoming. I thought we were talking about TV and now we're on our fundamental ability to communicate. I missed the part where I did something wrong.

All I can say is, good luck to those of you programmers who are trying to harness the lean-back TV viewing experience and digitally mediated social media. My fiancée and I have trouble dealing with multitasking and communicating over TV when we are in the same damned room.

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Marrying the mobile and static living room screens remains a dream of media moguls everywhere, and so far we aren't realizing it quite the way I had expected. At least in my own persistent use of smartphone, tablet and laptop in front of the TV they still don't marry well, even when the content is designed for tandem viewing. I admire and try the experiments in "second screening" but am still looking for the compelling model. Last year ABC tried to synch its "MyGeneration" series to an iPad app through sound cues. It was a disaster on a number of levels. First, the show was so bad it lasted perhaps only a few weeks. And believe me, this show was a painfully poor attempt to leverage Gen-X/Y nostalgia.

But the app was worse. It was supposed to synchronize additional content on your iPad by listening to sound cues from the show. In my living room this became a comedy in short order. I stripped the tablet of its case just to optimize the sound. I moved closer to the TV. The app generally refused to recognize the show was on and when it did it dropped the synch during commercial breaks. An app made by a major ad-supported broadcast network to synchronize with a prime-time show didn't seem to know there would be commercials? I understand from recent reports that ABC will be reviving the Synch app for "Grey's Anatomy." Let's hope for better.

The attempts to harness person-to-person exchanges can also be frustrating. Bravo does a credible job with its Bravo Now iPad app and select episodes when it sends tandem content to the iPad live. BuddyTV is a universal TV chat app that plugs you into chats about a show or lets you invite Facebook friends in to converse while watching from different locations. In general, I find these streams of comments are more interesting and usable after the fact. The basic flow of a programmed second screen is different from the SMS back and forth it tries to capture. When my daughter and I are watching "Mad Men" from separate locations ("Oh my god I can't believe Don is such a jerk!"), the pace of it is under the user's control. I noticed that the synchronized apps tug at your attention and feel distracting, subtractive rather than additive.

The experience may be quite different with sports content, however. There is loads of dead space for ancillary content to fill without distracting from the main event. Look at how busy sports venues are with programmed distraction. Movie theaters -- not so much, unless you happen upon an audience of drunk rednecks at a showing of "True Grit." But let's not revisit that column.

But how about you? How are the second screens integrating with your TV viewing experience? Are they edging towards integrating with the mains screen -- or are they happy to run in parallel, as likely to cross paths as a long-married couple absorbed in their respective LCDs during prime time?

"You don't love me. You love your iPad... . And look, you aren't even denying it very quickly either. Why are you marrying me? You ignore me already."

Hey, I was just sitting here trying to barely watch TV and before I know it we are at Def Con 1, the missiles are out of their silos and the trigger is being pulled on the doomsday device.

2 comments about "Love And The Second Screen ".
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  1. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, February 2, 2011 at 3:50 a.m.

    This is one of the best articles yet because it's true: if a man tries to read emails on his cell phone while he's supposed to be spending quality time with a woman, he may be surprised to notice that things have moved to Def Con 1 in very little time. But it's better than the other way around which I hear happens to guys women (subconsciously) intend to dump.

    I try to read emails on the cell phone while my girlfriend is washing the dishes, but lately she's been expecting me to hug her from behind while she's at the sink. What's up with that?

    Meanwhile marriage? In today's legal climate? When it's financially a much better deal for a man to just drag things out without a ceremony? Good luck with that. ;)

  2. Rita Allenrallen@freshaddress.com from FreshAddress, Inc., February 2, 2011 at 11:02 a.m.

    You had me at..." who is distracted least by our media multitasking". No one can 'multitask' completely and successfully. Our brain isn't set up to do more than one thing well at a time. Thanks for reminding me as I turn off my incoming mail tone as I right this.

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