The New Age of Second Screen: Enabling Interaction

Enabling Interaction with Companion Apps

Second-screen and companion viewing isn’t a new phenomenon per se. Television viewers are quite accustomed to diverting their attention throughout broadcasts. And even before the proliferation of TV companion apps such as Zeebox, Viggle and GetGlue, viewers often Googled or Wikipedia-d content pertinent to what they were watching on screen.  In fact, it’s this very diverted, media-meld mindset that has help made second-screen one of today’s hottest topics in digital TV technologies.

According to a recent Nielsen survey, 88 percent of tablet users and 86 percent of smartphone users thumb away on their devices while watching TV, with about 45 percent of tablet users second-screening daily.  Little surprise that almost a third of multitaskers used their second screens to check their e-mail. But what’s more telling from Nielsen’s findings is the 29 percent of TV viewers who use their gizmos to look up information relevant to the TV program they’re currently watching. Oh, and the nearly 20 percent who looked up additional information about a product from a recently viewed commercial.

While TV viewers aren’t strangers to peering at tablet screens during primetime, the success of companion apps themselves relies on more than this simple act of diversion; companion apps have to find ways to encourage engagement (and to turn that engagement into dollar signs). 

Hence why such a large part of companion apps is the social component – entertainment chatter is endemic to the social web. People love to talk about TV, so much so that social TV has become an industry unto itself. For instance, just take a look at Twitter’s recent acquisition of TV analytics company Bluefin, which allegedly cost the social networking site a whopping $90 million.

“Right now, most second screen experiences push content to the user but do very little by way of two-way interactivity,” said Mashable’s Christina Warren. “Sure, you can chat with friends or share on Twitter, but actions taken within the experiences have very little impact on the show you’re watching.”

But the second-screen gears may be shifting forward as app-makers realize the importance, nay value (real value), of direct, real-time interaction between the consumer and TV broadcasts through companion and second-screen technologies.

Reaping Rewards

With all the other distractions that cloud household primetime viewing, how do you make companion apps that one indispensable diversion? Aggregating the social dialogue and creating a base of loyalty among a TV show’s fans and superfans are key to having a tuned-in app user base. 

When it comes to building loyalty, everyone loves a reward; and, a good ol’ Price-Is-Right approach never hurt anyone. That’s exactly companion app Viggle’s philosophy.

“It starts with the fact that people watch a lot of television,” said Viggle President and COO Greg Consiglio. “People love TV and people should get something back [for it].”

Viggle turns watching TV into somewhat of a competition. And for all the TV loyalists out there, Viggle really pays off.  Bringing life to the slogan “Make TV more rewarding,” the companion app lets users redeem points earned from “checking in” during TV broadcasts for real rewards from a variety of brands, including The Gap, Foot Locker, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble.

The companion app has been downloaded over 2 million times, with around 600,000 active users spending an average of about one hour per day using the app, according to a recent AdAge Article. About a fifth of Viggle users interact with the companion app at least 20 days per month.

Viggle isn’t particularly modest about its growing rates of interaction in such a nascent landscape. In fact, the companion app sells its ad units on a cost per engagement basis, only charging users if a predetermined interaction threshold is met.

“Connecting the dots between TV brand advertising and a person’s consumer choices” is what Viggle is all about, according to Consiglio.  Think of it as a kind of data triangulation; as soon as a user registers Viggle collects non-personal statistical and demographical info, then as users check into shows and interact with the companion app, Viggle also get insight into when they watch TV, as well as what shows they watch.

So what’s in it for brands? Viggle’s gamification of watching TV gives brands a deeper look into the consumer on the other side of the screens. For instance, when a Viggle user scores a new pair of Gap chinos after cashing in those Viggle points from having her eyeballs glued on, other Viggle partner brands see that  — allowing partner brands to use reward redemption analysis and insight to, in a sense, retarget users with complementary products and ads.

In addition, CPG labels and retailers have the opportunity to extend their reach beyond screens during a TV broadcast that may include a brand’s commercial spots, says Consiglio. This gives TV advertisers a look into who has checked into that show in real time (and, effectively, which Viggle users saw the brand’s TV spot).

Sync It Up

Extending a brand’s reach can also be as straightforward as meeting users on all screens simultaneously. San Francisco-based ConnecTV may be the latest pioneer in the second-screen landscape. The companion app, which recently teamed up with a slew of local networks and can sync up more than 400 channels in the U.S., launched its AdSync network at the beginning of this year.

Think of it as a sort-of Google AdWords for the airwaves: ConnecTV uses content-recognition and fingerprinting technologies to listen in on 30-second ad spots, pinpointing partner brand ads and syncing ConnecTV’s in-app ad units with a brand’s commercial spot.  A novel idea, indeed – bringing home a commercial’s message on multiple screens; allowing the consumer to interact with brand or product message in real-time with on-air commercials. 

Twelve brands are already taking advantage of the app’s AdSync technology. According to ConnecTV CMO and cofounder Stacy Jolna, who will be joining us at this year’s OPS TV, the click-through rates for the companion app’s AdSync technology is 0.73%, around 700 times the click-through rate of standard web-based banner ads. 

The Broadcaster’s Perspective

While brands and TV consumers alike are warming up to third-party companion apps, broadcast networks like CBS offer an already established viewer base (as well as strong brand relationships), which may offer brand and TV advertisers a leg up on cross-exposure across screens. For a true look at the effectiveness and popularity of the second-screen experience, one need only turn to the year’s biggest day for advertisers – the Super Bowl. 

CBS dove into the second screen fray this February during the big game with its website, featuring a live stream of the entire game with an additional four camera angles, DVR capabilities (i.e., rewind, fast forward, and pause), and real-time statistics and analysis. 

Alongside with unprecedented live streaming of the Super Bowl, CBS Sports’ gameday mobile web experience boasted a curated Twitter experience, featuring direct interaction between spectators and CBS Sports and NFL notables. 

While the live stream held commercial spots sold and executed separately from the Super Bowl broadcast itself, some brands, including Coca-Cola, took advantage of the cross-exposure. The beverage brand, for instance, preloaded all of its Super Bowl spots to, allowing users to browse and watch the anticipated spots before and after they aired on TV. 

On the future of second-screen for, Chris Fix, SVP and National Sales Manager for CBS Interactive’s sport division, says, “We’re certainly open to different [types of] ad creative and opening the door to change the experience. [Second-screen] is not meant to be exactly like broadcast.”

With over 20,000 live sports broadcast a year, CBS Sports will have plenty of opportunities to fine tune its second-screen, mobile web experience. And with such an established live-stream audience, offers an extensive and engaging audience for brands and advertisers. In fact, during this year’s Super Bowl, racked up almost 10 million live video streams, with over 114 million minutes streamed all together. 

All that social chatter may be a veritable win for companion-app makers, bringing in loyal bases of TV consumers for brands. But, for brands and advertisers, all of that untamed chatter could pose risks. 

“Second-screen will be the social conversation surrounding television,” said Dirk Rients, SVP, Director of Mobile for DDB Chicago.  “[But], you can’t control the conversation — and to bring sponsorship into that can be hard.” 

Flip on the Mic

While more than 80 percent of gadget-wielding, U.S. households multitask across screens while watching TV, the percentage of them interacting through companion apps isn’t well known. And according to a recent report by consumer market research firm NPD, consumers overall are apathetic to the companion-app trend.

Discovery (allowing app users to find new and complementary content), the enhancement of TV broadcasts, and building a community around TV shows are the general touchpoints of a companion app. But to really draw in TV consumers, second-screen technologies have to go beyond simply putting a bow around unseen footage or recaps. 

For companion apps to find their place among the noise of primetime, they’ve got to offer a veritable added value to the TV viewer — and for many app makers out there vying for second-screen supremacy, social integration and community building seem to be the solution. 

“I see [companion apps] as a microphone; the TV is the output, but the second-screen allows the viewer to interact with us, interact with the program,” said Andy Brooks, Senior Director of Digital Development at truTV and Turner Broadcasting, during a session on the second screen at this year’s APPNATION conference in New York.