Second screen, companion apps, companion devices (it’s new and big)

A few weeks ago we attended the CableLabs Summer Conference (read about it here).  The hottest topic there was “second screen”.  What does this mean?

Well, most people with disposable income have several screens these days; they have a smartphone, they may also have a tablet, and they definitely have a TV or two.  At the moment, each of those experiences are isolated, different and unrelated.  What you do on your tablet is in no way related to what you do on your TV (unless of course you are watching a movie and you decide to use your tablet to look up the name of one of the actors, that’s about as far as it goes).  So the concept of;

  • second screen
  • companion apps
  • companion devices

… is all about delivering experiences that are connected and seamless across all the screens and devices that you own.

There’s a great definition at Wikipedia

A great example is a start-up called Kwarter.

They have identified that one of the biggest opportunities for multiple screen engagement is when you are watching sports on TV.  You want to comment on the game with others, your buddies may be elsewhere in the world, you want to meet other fans of your team, and you want to have friendly wagers on what’s about to happen next on the field of play.  However you don’t want to use the TV screen itself to do all of that because that would mean missing the live action while you switch to other pages.  So Kwarter enables you to pick up your tablet and do all those fun engaging things on your “second screen”.  That’s an example of where a companion app is running on a companion device to deliver a second screen experience – that’s it for the definition and overview!

At AppCarousel we see this second screen movement as one of the most exciting things in the technology space, because it embraces the growing sophistication of users and their devices, and has the potential to turn the last “old school” business – that of linear broadcast mass-blast TV – into something truly interactive, without everyone having to go out and buy a new interactive TV.  Think of the possibility for advertisers and brands;

  • TV ads can become interactive in real time (get more info on your companion device, get a coupon for the product, re-watch an ad that you were interested in, if you like that Ford car you saw in the ad use your tablet to create your own car with the specs and color you want and then check out the exact price and availability etc.)
  • merchandising can become more relevant and personalized; if my smartphone knows what I am watching on TV (e.g. I am a fan of sports stations and car channels), then the ads and apps it recommends can be way more targeted
  • advertisers can finally create a feedback loop; instead of not knowing what someone is watching or whether they care, encouraging them to interact with the brand via their companion device gives them unparalleled visibility

Let’s face it; people are distracted these days.  60% of people watching TV are messing with other devices.  So broadcasters and brands are trying to find ways of distracting them with their own shows, products and services!

To conclude this short look at a new phenomenon – “second screen” – let’s try to boil it all down to a few scenarios.  Can we categorize the use cases?  Here goes …

  1. There are second screen experiences that mirror the one on the big screen.  For example, I can watch MLB games on my TV, then take my tablet up to bed to continue watching the same game
  2. There are companion apps that give me additional / supplementary information and interactivity regarding what I am watching (to continue the MLB example, the MLB app gives the real-time plays, stats and player profiles while the game itself is on the big screen)
  3. There are devices and apps that are effectively remote controls for the big screen.  At the NCTA conference in Boston this year, ARRIS (market leaders in set top boxes), demonstrated an iPad app that not only provided you with a more rich and interactive channel guide so that you could decide what to watch, but was also a full remote control for the set top box so that you didn’t have to look down the back of the sofa for that remote ;-)
  4. There are apps that extend the experience and make it more interactive.  The example I gave earlier where I see an ad on the TV for a Ford car is a good one because in a quick 30 second commercial there is no way I can get enough info or find out more about whether that car has the features I want (or indeed whether it is in my price range or whether Ford Employee Pricing is on right now in my area).  However by scanning a QR code on screen or typing in a short URL I can either get the Ford app or go straight to the web page designed to complement the ad, and I can carry on looking at the car for as long as I like
  5. Did we miss any categories or use cases?  Feel free to comment at the bottom of the article

In summary, I think you can see the enormous opportunities ahead as companion devices interact in real time with that big screen in the corner of the room … but wait, TVs and big screens aren’t just restricted to living rooms.  They are in public places, they are used as billboards, they are on trains and buses, at sporting venues, in malls, and on and on.

The next article in our series will look at some of the biggest names in home entertainment and gaming (Microsoft, Nintento etc.) and how they are starting to embrace the second screen revolution.


Managing Director, AppCarousel

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