Taking A Second On The Second Screen

The reality of the second screen has been with us for longer than many may think. It isn’t, after all, only about tablets and smartphones. The first second screen of any significance was the laptop, and it remains hugely important in the second screen landscape.
Almost 10 years ago, respondents in a study my Ball State University team ran, called The Media Acceleration Project, talked about how their new laptops enabled them to use their computers in the family room rather the desktop in the den. This proximity to other family members, who were most often cited as watching TV, was somehow defined as “enhancing family time.”
More realistically, it just meant family members were physically present in the same room but still disengaged, pursuing their own thing rather than sharing any experience or ongoing interchange.  My colleagues at Magid have defined this as “separate togetherness” – a concise and accurate term I wish I’d coined.
However, times have moved on, and tablets and smartphones have out-stripped expectations in terms of market penetration and use. But not, I would suggest, in terms of their impact on the mass viewing experience. At least not yet.
While there are undoubtedly reasons why we can expect the second screen environment to grow (and I’m a believer over the longer term), there are others that have inhibited it to date. They will need to be addressed before mass, sustained adoption of commercially viable behaviors truly arrives.
Some of them follow – you may think there are others — please feel free to add them in the comments section:
· Syncing – There has been much talk about the opportunity for viewers to respond to ads in real time via their tablet or phone. Right now, the time it takes to assimilate the message and for the device to sync to the content is not optimal. 

Depending on the source, it can reportedly take up to almost a minute to deliver the information, meaning a frustrating user experience for a viewer used to the instant response of their TV. Now, this is a technical issue and history shows us that these things are improved over time. I’ve no doubt this will cease to be an issue, but until it does it remains a stumbling block to realizing aspirations in the space.

· Attention Deficit – Leaving aside the fact that a large amount of concurrent tablet and phone use involves content that is unrelated to programming on the TV at the time, the act of responding to ads via the second screen – while delivering a potentially high level of engagement for the advertiser concerned – raises the question of distraction from other ads in the pod and potential detachment from the program environment. 

If the first ad attracts X% of viewers to the second screen, then the second ad has a smaller pool of viewers to impact. Media is bought and sold on at least presumed attention of some degree (exposure). Introducing a quantifiable degree of distraction provides a challenge that will need to be thoughtfully addressed through a deeper understanding of the relative impact of these types of interactions and exposures.

·Incremental Sales – On the plus side, the second screen presents an opportunity for incremental sales.  Though largely ignored to date (or at least not widely discussed), engaged viewers that follow compelling content already talk about their favorite programs in person, in social media, visit Web sites, share content etc.  The growth of the second screen has to be an opportunity to leverage viewer passions outside the broadcast schedule through the creation of specific content that can  carry advertising and sponsorship and take advantage of the interactive opportunities for data capture, community building etc. 

With all the feverish talk of content marketing and native advertising, where better to apply these approaches than on the second screen in an asynchronous fashion? The sales opportunity is not limited to those advertisers on-air. though maybe the brands integrated with the show are the logical first port of call.

·Measurement – Although measurement of second screen device use relative to TV viewing is improving, the consensus still seems to be that things aren’t quite ready for prime time. That said, we need to be sure not to allow the pursuit of perfection to impair our recognition of improvement.  Better is still better after all, and by definition it provides more clarity as to effect and efficiency. 

We also need to understand much more about the nature and context of second-screen use – not all programs and ad categories will prompt the same type of response and that matters if we are to make the best use of opportunities. In short, we still know too little about consumer behavior in this regard and more insightful work needs to be undertaken and made available.
No doubt there are other factors that will both drive and inhibit the success of the second screen and its relationship to TV.  Some of these are with us now and others will emerge in the future. What do you think they are



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