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Standards crucial for second screen, says Sony

Second screen apps related to TV programmes face a range of challenges include the multiplicity of platforms, brands and services in the market, according to Spencer Stephens, executive vice-president and chief technology officer, Sony Pictures Entertainment, speaking at TV Connect yesterday. 

“It’s not scaleable or sustainable,” he said of the current environment for second screen apps. Solutions that can deliver scale to providers include devices such as the Chromecast dongle, which works well if users are prepared to use Chrome on their tablets, he said.

“However, this ties you in to the way [Chromecast] has done it. What we are looking for is an open standards-based solution and for us that is HTML5,” said Stephens. “Studios are starting to deploy interactive extras packages using HTML5. However not all platforms are implementing all aspects of HTML5 so there has to be agreement on that.”

Another problem, he said, is that protected premium video currently has to be distributed using a plug-in browser. There is a need for some sort of content protection mechanism built in to HTML5, he said.

Stephens said that second screen apps had to deliver a good consumer experience and also be viable, meaning there is a need for apps that work for more than a single programme. He cited the example of Sony’s Movie Touch app, which had been implemented for Men in Black 3.

The Men in Black 3 version of the app offers a series of ‘extras’ as on a DVD, on a ‘ribbon’ across the bottom of the second screen. These include social network interaction and ‘clip and share’ allowing viewers to share clips from the movie with their friends. The app is updated in real time, allowing viewers to identify music and actors on screen at a particular point in the movie and get additional information about them. In addition to real time interaction, the app allows users to skip back and forwards through the movie.

Synchronisation between the ribbon and the content can be enabled by audio fingerprinting, which works well for linear and live TV, but for the on-demand content delivered by Sony, delivering synchronsation over the local area network or the cloud is a better option. Cloud-based synchronisation has the additional benefit of enabling viewers to find things to watch on the web and pass the URL to the main screen, said Stephens.