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Second-Screen Apps Must Engage

The average American owns four devices and spends “60 hours a week consuming content on those devices”. With consumers multi-tasking on a variety of device types and consuming all kinds of media, brands should build digital experiences that bridge the gap between screens.

Whether it’s watching the NFL, clinging to the edge of your seat during “The Walking Dead,” or catching up on world affairs via CNN and Fox, the TV screen is ripe for second-screen experiences. Engaging users on multiple device types to enhance the media experience will increase in 2014. Not only do these apps catch a viewer’s attention, the data stream provides extensive information for marketers.



The trend of using a smartphone while watching TV has already proliferated. Nielsen found that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners are second-screeners while watching television. Comparing apps on a tablet or smartphone with choices in television can bring about unique angles regarding attitude and interest towards products.

For brands seeking engagement from tech-savvy consumers, second-screen experiences can serve as the next progression in media and digital marketing.

Second Screen Apps Must Provide Value

Surprisingly or not, one of the most well-executed second-screen apps comes from The Weather Channel. Business Insider recently reported that users of The Weather Channel app “spend a cumulative one hour a week on weather content.”

Although weather may not be the most exciting content to watch, the incorporation of a dedicated app for TWC helped to augment the experience. Access to live radar feeds, in-app video viewing, and functions for sharing footage and photos of weather conditions make the second-screen app stick. Brands should aim to develop a second-screen app experience that drives engagement by extending content from TV to devices.

Opportunities for sponsors to extend their ad reach and even their ad format is also possible. The app itself can be sponsored by advertisers. For instance, General Electric is a major sponsor behind Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” tablet app in addition to the program.

The Viewer’s Experience

Without immersive content that drives consumers to tap and swipe a brand’s app, the second screen will not attract interest from users and important sponsors. Developing these apps is not as simple as porting a website to a mobile device. Such apps must offer value not found from solely viewing the show, playing the album, or watching a game.

Samsung and Jay Z developed a companion app for his latest album release with mixed results. The app failed to adequately launch at midnight of the release, and Samsung and Jay Z overstepped their bounds with private data. New York Times Magazine blogger Will Staley described the process“Jay-Z gets paid directly for music ... You, the listener, get free (or almost-free music)… and Samsung "gets some of that raw uncut data, which is all anybody wants anymore.”

Aside from providing consumers with great content, second-screen apps are sources of contextual data. While data is important, the terms and conditions to ensure privacy and security for users is paramount. Brands that are overly ambitious and fail to deliver quality, second screen experiences can appear as nothing more than a “data grab”.

What Brands Need to Deliver

Despite Jay Z and Samsung, second-screen experiences are maturing for some brands. AMC, the network behind “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” is making significant strides. Specifically when it comes to tablets, AMC is providing engaging apps and web applications for viewers. Known as StorySync, AMC’s app is designed to launch at the premiere time of a show.

Polls, images, Twitter streams, in-app videos, and other content about a show draw in the viewer to increase engagement. Mobile developers behind Story Sync also created a web application accessible from any device. By offering a web app, AMC lifted the barrier for accessing the app experience (compared to releasing solely for iPhone or Android). 

During the mid-season premiere of Season 4 of “The Walking Dead,” 391,210 tweets were created during the broadcast. If users are already reaching for devices during jaw-dropping scenes, why not have them access a relevant brand’s app instead?

3 comments about "Second-Screen Apps Must Engage".
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  1. Nikos Iatropoulos from Lingospot, March 5, 2014 at 12:33 a.m.

    Himanshu, thank you for a very interesting article. I agree, of course, that second-screen apps must engage viewers and StorySync seems like a step in that direction. I was wondering why AMC only has it available during the premier of the show. Is there a technical reason, or is it by design, so that they can drive viewers to the live show instead of DVR viewing? Do you know how they deal with the time zone issue? Do they simply ask for your zip code and time-shift all the second-screen content?

  2. Himanshu Sareen from Icreon Tech, March 6, 2014 at 9:55 a.m.

    Hi Nikos,

    Viewers are still able to run the app after the live premiere, but the optimal value from participating in the social community as the show is going on is part of the fun. So yes it can run separately from live broadcast, but some of the content like the live polls and questions only work during the live broadcast. Although viewers that come in late can still view the results of those polls/questions.

    I'm not sure about how they approach the timezone issue, but what you suggest could be a possible approach.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Nikos Iatropoulos from Lingospot, March 6, 2014 at 10:10 a.m.

    Thanks Himanshu, I did check it out and it's a nicely done web app. I'm not sure if I would use it during Walking Dead, as I'd rather sit back and enjoy the carnage. I can see how the polls might be interesting, especially with the feedback loop of seeing what others have voted for.

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