Why Syncing the Second Screen is Key

Thirty per cent of tablet use and 33 per cent of Internet use happens in front of the TV. And if not curated carefully, this could start to negatively impact TV’s influence. The next billion televisions will be Internet connected. That's going to turn TV viewing into a much more social experience – and provides the perfect platform for second screen integration.

In fact, a growing body of research is predicting that second screen apps – and especially social integration – could have a serious impact on the TV industry. Research by the mobile and digital technology researcher Mobile Interactive Group (MIG) has predicted that smartphone adoption will drive TV and mobile multi-tasking in UK and US. If handled right, this could result in a more engaged audience, significantly increasing programme interaction.

Rather than distracting viewers, one of the key ways that the second screen can draw viewer engagement is with personalisation and interactivity. In the future, apps could connect viewers to the social graph, aid content discovery, encourage interactivity, most important of all - serve real-time related content based on what the TV is showing.

But of course the key to success is being able to synch the app to the TV – without this the second screen experience can easily slip from enhancing the TV experience to pulling viewers away from the main screen.

The Problem with Syncing
To create a compelling real-time user experience, any second screen app needs to synch with the main TV – and finding out what’s playing on the TV is not easy. The most basic solution to this problem is to create a second screen app for one TV show in particular – e.g. encourage viewers to download the “Mad Men” app to use while watching a show. However, this doesn’t completely solve the problem, because showings differ depending on timezone, pay TV provider, and region. In the USA this problem is especially important to solve because many TV programmes premiere at different times on the East and West coast.

Approaches to Synching
1. Listening
Many companies are looking at the problem of syncing from different angles. ABC is using audio fingerprinting on the iPad to hear what the TV is playing. Similarly, Shazaam has just raised $32 million to “listen” to the TV, identify commercials, and provide related advertising content. And 12 week old startup IntoNow was recently acquired by Yahoo for 20 million used the technology to provide second screen interaction that travels with you as you move between programmes.

However audio fingerprinting or “listening” can require advanced technology and infrastructure and there are inherent problems with lag time between identifying the show (it clips ten seconds of audio, sends to servers, identifies, then sends back), background noise interference and the fact it works with native applications only, not generic web applications. And it needs a microphone or it won’t work.

2. TV Checkin
TV checkin, pioneered by the likes of GetGlue and Miso, requires minimal infrastructure to roll out. TV checkin encourages viewers to sign into a particular show, and chat about it as they watch. The major downside of this approach is that checking in makes an extra step – only the most highly engaged consumers participate.

3. Automated Systems
Anthony Rose has forecast the rise of automated systems that know the content we are watching now on the main TV, matching content on companion apps, with companies like Flingo coming out of stealth mode. The cleanest way to synch the second screen is to interface with the set top box software according to Rose. This requires intelligence in set top boxes, but connected and smart TVs are steadily gaining a foothold in the market. The advantage of this approach is that the consumer doesn’t have to do anything – their tablet or smartphone “just knows” what they’re watching. This perfectly complements the lean back attitude of TV, helping consumers embrace the second screen.

4. Curated Systems
Another method of triggering second screen interaction is offered up by companies such as The Application Store (TAS), Ex Machina, Screach, MIG’s mVoy and others who offer up white-label customer management systems. The systems give a framework that is tied to playout timelines in the studios and allow for creating interactivity and engagement such as quizzes, voting, predictions, social media, chat etc. on second screen devices via apps and web pages. And does not necessarily need audio fingerprinting to synchronise.

For instance, the TAS Screentoo application framework from is integrated into UK-based, global broadcast playout system provider Snell's broadcast automation system called Morpheus, used by over 700 broadcasters worldwide. The broadcasters can create, with real-time data essential to maintaining synchronicity between the primary broadcast and second screen devices.

Netherlands-based Ex Machina, Social TV veterans, work closely with a number of major production companies to create real time engagement around reality and game shows in particular, offering up their strong background in gaming and game mechanics to their clients in this emerging space with their PlayToTv platform.

As synchronising the second screen becomes easier, expect to see TV becoming more interactive, engaging and personalised. This is a trend that enables a lot of other changes that are happening in the TV industry- namely targeted advertising, social TV, and personalisation.

By Emma Wells, Appmarket.tv