Tablets and Smartphones As Agents of Change

It’s true. In a few short years, tablet and smartphone have had a profound effect on how we consume media, find information and relate to one another. We are intimately connected with our mobile device, particularly when watching TV, and this has fundamentally changed how people are using the oldest of media-delivery devices. MESA noted in their recent blog post: “Earlier in April, Nielsen stated that 88 percent of U.S. tablet owners and 86 percent of U.S. smartphone owners use their device while watching TV at least once during a 30-day period. Those findings — compiled from a Q4 2011 survey of connected device owners in four countries — also showed that more than a quarter of U.S. tablet owners (26 percent) and smartphone owners (27 percent) use their devices while watching TV several times a day.” And this seems to be just the beginning of a revolution in media consumption which may be just as important as the introduction of television itself in the 50s. By 2014, an estimated 89.5 million people in the United States will use tablet computers, up from 54.8 million users in 2012, which provides an amazing opportunity to both studios and media companies to engage their audiences in new ways based on behaviors for which viewers have already shown a tendency. The same MESA post puts numbers to the trends, noting “…37 percent look up information related to the TV program they are watching, 27 percent look up product information from a TV advertisement; and 47 percent visit a social networking site during the program the are watching.” What was once a relatively solitary, uni-directional experience has grown up to be something much more interesting, exciting and multi-directional. Even while Giant’s app developers have been busy with video streaming apps, social-link-up apps, and so much more, we’ve been brainstorming how second screen or companion apps can help media companies improve the stickiness of their programming, strengthen their brands and retain viewers. When the iPad first premiered, one of the first projects Giant’s app development team conceived and developed was an app which delivered an fully-realized annotated guide to a historical miniseries, providing additional information and links, images of primary documents and maps, social media integration and a game. We designed the app to address all three of those basic ‘second screen’ behaviors. Principal features provided more topical links and supplementary information, thereby increasing viewer involvement and program ‘re-watchability’. Links connected to an ecommerce opportunity. Integration of the top social media sites allowed users to share with friends and involve their real and virtual communities in their interests. An entire new dimension was added to the experience. In other early efforts, we developed concepts for both pilots and current shows which also addressed this same fundamental troika. In essence, these concepts grew organically from the users interests and required a fair amount of user interaction. But the latest work in 2nd screen apps goes beyond this and attempts to anticipate what viewers want and serve it up in real time. Start-up Flingo, created by Ashwin Navin, just completed a funding round to build “… software that will automatically figure out what viewers are watching. That way, it can bring them more information about what’s on the screen, and/or help them tell their pals about it.” It seems like this will be a platform, a Shazam-type app for broadcast programming. Great idea, but the technical hurdles will not insignificant. There have been numerous articles, blog posts and commentary written about this burgeoning field. Chuck Parker’s post and infographics in The Growth of Second Screen and its Impact on Consumer Data and IT, published in March, bring a new perspective on this rapidly evolving mediascape. There are many players out there, with impressive backing, credentials and brain power, yet no one company has ‘solved it’. We had a client in our NY studio a few days ago who had been in about a year ago to discuss a project. Reviewing what we’d proposed last spring, he commented that the business was changing so fast that the concept we’d discussed very seriously then just wouldn’t fit the current market. Consumers and media companies are still feeling their way along. Viewers know what they like — sharing, information, and links…all at their fingertips. Media companies know that they like — ratings, ad revenue. It falls to the developers and interactive companies to find ways to service both constituencies and will undoubtedly require a combination of art, science and a good sense of timing. Let’s get started.