Social TV, also known as the second screen, has long interested app developers and network ad sales and marketing teams. Now in 2013 we see increased agency and brand attention. But the reality of second screen is still one of spotty, volatile engagement, limited innovation, and frequently uninteresting, duplicative experiences.
So here is what I’d like to see for second-screen progress in 2013 — broken down into a wishlist for producers, advertisers, and app developers.
One critical group that has largely been missing is the creative drivers of TV content: producers and writers from the production side, and development executives from the network side. Unfortunately these two parties generally have limited involvement in the creative output on the second screen. With few exceptions, this leaves the experience development sitting primarily with network sales and marketing teams and media partners. No disrespect intended, but the second screen-experience for TV fans will be weak until networks stop thinking of it as a sales and marketing tool and engage producers and writers.
We’ve seen webisodes, and we’ve seen digital experiences connected to the story arc of certain shows. But I’m particularly interested in storytelling via social — interaction with and between characters as they live their offscreen lives. I’d like to see producers devote some time to building stories that happen on social channels, in real time (I’ve written before about my faith in appointment viewing, including digital). This is a rich and new way to build characters and stories that will consistently, and deeply, engage fans in the lives of their favorite characters. It’s also a way to continue fan relationships during series' dark or down time — whether that’s in between episodes or seasons.
Engagement and Customization
used to say, “Let’s get small.” I agree: It’s time for brands to get niche, narrow, and custom on the second screen. Many of the ad experiences we see today in second
screen apps are “added value” or bolted on via larger media buys. Which is fine -- but there is extremely little scale here. Brands need to ask themselves: what’s the
purpose? It’s not ROI – there shouldn’t be much I, and the scale has no R.
The real opportunity lies in fan interest and brand learning, because while scale is not achievable here, engagement is. Brands should make the effort to develop clever connections to the original content, to wink and nod to this rabid fan base, and demonstrate a deep understanding of the undercurrents that connect fans to content in cultish ways. It can even be done at low cost because the creative executions that hit home for addicted viewers can be as simple as clever tweets and posts. Putting unrelated banners in second screen is a complete miss.
While there are a few second-screen apps that I like, the fact is that we need new experiences in aided storytelling, and we’re not getting them. Most of the second-screen apps are all minor variations on generic Web content scraping, badges or rewards, and check-ins. Those with audio recognition or other synchronous capabilities can be more interesting, but generally they’re not. App developers, please consider this a challenge: Find your favorite TV content and figure out how technology can add value to the narrative.
Ultimately there’s one common theme across all of these topics: unleashing the creative side of the second-screen experience, not just more functionality. And that’s my big wish for 2013.