Cross-Platform Sync Ad Draws 23% Interactivity Rates for USA Net, Ford

A test of synchronized ad creative running in a USA Network ad spot, a Web site, Facebook and a tablet app engaged 23% of the people viewing the ad on second screens. “It was off the charts,” says Seth Tapper, CEO, SecondScreen Networks, the mobile tech company that facilitated the multi-display experience for USA and its client Ford Lincoln Mercury. “We aren’t sure what that means for the future, but they were happy,” he says.

The Ford Lincoln Mercury spot ran on the finale episode of USA’s “Necessary Roughness” series. When the ad for the MKX automobile appeared in the episode, SecondScreen launched a complementary rich media unit across USA’s CharacterChatter app on its Web site, on Facebook and on an iPad companion app. CharacterChatter is designed to enable viewer chats and complementary content during a live airing of an episode.

In this sync ad, the second screens offered users a poll that involved both the car and a character on the “Necessary Roughness” series. Of the people using the CharacterChatter app at the time, 23% interacted with the ad.

Tapper says that the model for synchronized advertising across TV and secondary screens turns the usual targeting model for Web and mobile on its head. “Ad serving is not time-based. It is around targeting the right ad for the person visiting a page,” he says. Synchronized advertising instead targets a very precise moment in time that is dependent on another medium like TV. In order to pull off the hat trick, SecondScreen uses a frame-by-frame audio/visual analysis of the on-air content to know precisely when a spot is running and then serve the ad to the digital apps.

Tapper says this is harder than it sounds and cannot be done reliably by hand. In the case of the Ford ad, the “play out” schedule for when the ad was supposed to drop on air was not accurate. “The technology picked it up at the right point anyway,” he says, and the rich media unit displayed as planned across the apps. The system even was able to handle the last-minute addition of Facebook into the mix. “If you tried to do this by hand and by time code, it would fail,” he says.

A number of TV networks like Bravo and ABC (“Grey’s Anatomy”) have been testing second-screen apps that synchronize content, but fully synchronized ad executions that invite interactivity are still in test stages. Most research shows that tablet and mobile device users are engaging the second screen heavily on their own during TV viewing, and so they may not be fully engaged with the media brand that is on air.

Tapper says the networks are all scrambling to develop complementary second-screen experiences that keep viewers in the brand’s embrace. “Most of the broadcasters have a plan, but they don’t necessarily have a budget or a good plan,” he says.

He sees some of the greatest, earliest opportunity in sports programming, where device users often are watching one media outlet on air and consulting another in hand. “People’s habits are hard to break,” he warns media companies. “If you don’t become that place to greet them [on the second screen], it will be hard to break them of those habits.”

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