TV’s constant companion

Broadcasters are increasingly focusing on interactivity via second-screen devices, writes Shirlene Chandrapal, vice-president, connected TV at Smartclip.

Recent research from YouGov has revealed that consumer TV viewing habits are changing fast and viewers now look to other devices than their TV to consume video content. One in three owners of connected TVs and 41% of 18-24 year olds now choose to watch programmes through built-in services such as the iPlayer.  Moreover, earlier in the year Nielsen and Yahoo found that 86% of people were accessing the mobile web and using other devices whilst watching television. These numbers clearly show that consumers now expect the viewing experience to be rich and increasingly interactive and broadcasters are therefore looking at how they can use the second screen to make their programmes innovative and user centric.

One example comes from ITV who have launched companion screen voting for the Britain’s Got Talent show. Viewers are now able to vote via their iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch directly from the Britain’s Got Talent app. Despite seeing over 500,000 downloads across the series and peak traffic reading up to 130,000 users per episode, the overwhelming popularity of the app is only valuable if it is well executed from the off. Unfortunately the app collapsed just a few days after its launch, forcing ITV to pull it offline. If next-generation technologies are faulty when first rolled out to consumers, they can receive negative connotations instead of the desired effect of engaging consumers with much touted new technology.

The BBC is exploring similar services and rightly sees the companion screen as a source of innovation going forward. Developing the concept of the interactive ‘red button’, the BBC’s companion apps on shows such as The Antiques Roadshow, will allow the user to take part and share their opinions. Being able to play along or explore content makes the viewing experience collaborative and builds engagement for the consumer with the television programme. Due to the rise of on demand television the remote control and TV guide has become almost redundant. However, companion apps and the interaction they provide are a forward thinking way of bringing back the feeling of a nationwide audience watching events unfold together, particularly as the global summer games and Queen’s Jubilee will be broadcast over the coming weeks.

There is a clear consumer demand for these second screen services and soon all of our TV screens will become interactive. It makes sense for broadcasters to leverage popular consumer channels, for example using the smartphone and tablet devices that consumers are already using on a daily basis. Whilst other companies and brands have been using mobile and app technology for a while, only now are broadcasters building apps with companion and interactive services, bringing a fresh approach to the TV viewing experience.

There has been a huge shift over the last 10 years towards real-time content and this provides consumers with an incentive to watch live programmes. After all, when hotly anticipated sports matches are over there is little reason to watch the game afterwards, when you can find highlights online, the media have covered it and friends have announced the winner on Facebook. This trend in viewer behaviour demonstrates how the on-demand trend has been the driver for broadcasters seeking creative renewal and innovative ways to encourage viewers to interact with live TV.

At the same time, broadcasters have to work harder and constantly innovate to pull in an audience for a live programming slot. With interactive content provided by companion apps advertisers can be assured that people are engaging with their content, not simply turning the TV on and leaving the room while the programme is running on the screen unwatched. Compared with the traditional TV format, the audience is engaged and actively consuming content, generating more involvement and consequently richer brand awareness.

The rapid growth of companion apps, gaming, social networks and supplementary information about live events as well as on demand viewing and the second screen shows that the growth areas for connected TV will lie outside traditional TV broadcasting in the future. Take the smartphone phenomenon; five years ago app stores didn’t even exist, but now there are over 500,000 apps available for iOS alone. In the past mobile phones were only used to make calls and now they are a hub of media content. This is the stage we are at with TV – people are beginning to use their TV set for other activities aside from watching scheduled programmes.

The development of the second screen phenomenon is growing but the full potential of companion apps remains mostly untapped. There are countless opportunities for broadcasters and advertisers with this media, creating deep engagement and interaction with viewers. Imagine consumers competing against celebrities on gameshows using their mobiles and casting votes in the British general elections with an app. Overall, companion apps offer viewers an immersive experience which is extremely valuable to advertisers and broadcasters for driving digital engagement but ultimately, there is still a long way to go to fully take advantage of this second screen technology.

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