Commentary

After The Magic, Then What?

"We are two minutes into this show and we already watched a lingering death from natural causes, two vampires rip out the neck of an innocent man and now we are watching -- what, a sink filled with blood?"

"It's a good show," my fiancée insists. Actually, it is a "payback show." This SyFy series "Being Human" (think "Friends" but with werewolves, vampires and ghosts) is what I had to watch the other night to make up for making her sit through her first viewing of "Jaws" the night before. I can't believe she never saw "Jaws," but apparently she found it too intense and violent. So now we watch supernatural carnage and more blood than I have ever seen packed into the first minutes of a program. "He's the vampire, she's the ghost," she annotates. "They all have issues with it."

Just before I am about to put my eyes out, an on-screen call to action prompts me to use my Shazam app to get additional content for the show. This music recognition app actually works beautifully on the audio track of the show. Within seconds of loading, Shazam recognizes that I am watching the program and calls up a page of links that acknowledges which episode I am viewing. This level of specificity is itself a nice touch because it makes the user feel as if a smart machine is at the other end of this "conversation."

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I wish the experience all took place within the context of the Shazam app, but the links kick me over to the Syfy mobile web site for "Exclusive Content," a sweepstakes entry or the music tracks featured in recent episodes. While much of the content is accessible to anyone on the mobile Web, the program does have a "Shazam Exclusive Sneak Peek" clip of about a minute. Yeah, a minute.

I imagine there is a bit of fan service here that "Being Human" loyalists will appreciate, but generally it all still seems to me a stingy payoff for bothering to use my app. The basic technology is so cool, however. I reused the app during relatively quiet moments of the show and it still detected the right program every time -- quickly, top. Imagine the potential here for simulcasting on the second screen. Unlike many tandem second-screen experiences, this technology could keep the user in synch even in time-shifted viewings and feed complementary programming to the smartphone or tablet. The parallel experience could be quite rich, if the programmers were smart enough to make it truly complementary and not intrusive. Shifting focus between the two screens is going to be a delicate art of second-screen programming in the future, I am sure.

But whether it's the cool audio recognition technology Shazam is using or just the 2D scan codes everyone else is trying this season, these projects in tethering offline media with online assets via mobile need to give better payoffs or risk alienating consumers. Seeing that I was a bit disappointed in the "Being Human" links, my fiancée tossed me her copy of getmarried magazine. "Here, there are codes everywhere to scan," she assured me. Indeed there were. Microsoft has made deep inroads with the magazine community this year by preaching the gospel of spreading codes everywhere. They are a key activation device in this year's Sports illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and most of the advertising in the current issue of getmarried has codes.

But it is all about follow-through with these analog-to-mobile connections. I should emphasize that the Microsoft Tag recognition technology performs exceptionally well. It seems to get the code accurately with just a passing glance of the icon. The end result of most of these scans is disappointing, however. SI, to its credit, did it well this year by giving each of the three codes in its issue a raison d'etre. One Microsoft Tag leads to an extensive mobile site for voting on model rookie of the year, complete with multiple videos. The getmarried execution is more typical, however. A select few of the codes kicked me over to videos from the magazine itself that truly complemented the print editorial.

"Honey how are you set with personalizing the gifts for your bridesmaids?" I ask. "They say it is important."

"We're having bridesmaids? Crap. This wedding is getting really complicated."

I am afraid to tell her about the wedding dress fashion trends. Peachy blush is in, apparently. Turquoise? So 2010. I am staying away from the chocolate fountains and "groom cakes" (which until I didn't know even existed until a few weeks ago) altogether.

The problem of mobilizing everything in a piece of analog media is that the end user experience is so unpredictable and uneven. For instance, in this magazine I appreciated the video enhancements because they really did flesh out the page of editorial when it came. But in most cases the Tags were simply linking over to an advertiser's non-mobile Web site, generally a slow loading and mobile-unfriendly experience. So what is the end effect on consumers -- to scan or not to scan -- when you have no idea what you are going to get?

For the consumer, the magic of these technologies lasts for about as long as it takes to use them once or twice. After that, it is all about execution.

1 comment about "After The Magic, Then What? ".
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  1. Jeffrey Jones from Word.Jones, February 22, 2011 at 2:17 p.m.

    Don't waste your valuable "paybacks" on this Syfy lameness.
    See the original on BBC America, with better acting, accents, of course, and stories.
    Syfy dumbs down; they left the BSG/Caprica concept to die a miserable death.

    The newest Stargate is pretty fair stuff; season two launches in the next week or so.

    Being Human:BBC is typically well done.

    Mebbe Thornewood looms, as well. Dr. Who resumes, too, on Syfy, but I've already seen it on BBC. Will enjoy again when Syfy brings it on.

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