Broadcasters look to ‘second screen’ to boost revenue

5 Nov 2013

Broadcasters look to 'second screen' to boost revenue

More and more consumers are doing it – taking to their smartphones or tablet computers to express their delight or disdain to friends on Twitter or Facebook with what they are watching on TV.

Around the world, TV broadcasters and various entertainment firms are referring to this phenomenon as the ‘second screen’ and are busy creating new services to enhance viewers’ experiences during their favourite TV shows and no doubt drum up additional advertising and sponsorship revenue.

Broadcaster BSkyB has a plethora of second-screen companions for TV viewers, ranging from the Sky Now app, which allows TV viewers to record and view their favourite programmes remotely on a smartphone or tablet, to various Sky Sports apps, including one that puts the tablet user inside the helmet cam of a Formula 1 race driver.

During the summer, Channel 4 launched its 4Now always-on app, which plays host to synchronised experiences for Channel 4’s broadcast content, including programme information, social media interaction and interactive content, like polls and quizzes. The channel also launched its first-ever Twitter play-along game for Was it Something I Said?, hosted by David Mitchell.

According to figures from the 2nd Screen Society, 58pc of Irish people are online while watching TV, with 70pc of tablet owners and 68pc of smartphone owners using these devices while they watch TV.

ShowPal, a second-screen companion

In recent weeks, TV3 launched a dedicated second-screen companion called ShowPal on Apple iOS devices, with an Android version expected by spring 2014.

The ShowPal app, built for TV3 by Dublin-based start-up Axonista, provides TV3 viewers with second-screen content related to what they are watching as they are watching. Using audio watermarking technology, the app recognises what’s on and delivers a synchronised timeline of related content curated by a team of four editors recently recruited by TV3.

Advertisers can also run promotions or competitions through the app, or even offer users a purchase point. For example, if an Xposé viewer spots a product he or she likes on the show, ShowPal can direct him or her to a purchase point.

Axonista, which employs 12 people in Dublin city centre, is a self-funded Enterprise Ireland high-potential start-up. The company counts MTV Networks among its customers.

Claire McHugh, chief executive of Axonista, explained how the technology works: “The broadcaster, in this case TV3, embeds an encoded timestamp in the audio part of the broadcast TV signal. The app is able to listen for and decode this ‘audio watermark’ even though it’s not audible.

“Based on the timestamp in the watermark, the app is able to figure out what the user is watching and how far they are into the show, so we can deliver time-based contextual information around what the user is watching at that very moment. We call these slides and they can contain actor bios or Twitter profiles, a map of the location or scores in other games around the league – anything, really, and each genre of show will have its own range of information that users will find useful,” McHugh said.

She added there are also commercial opportunities for advertisers to deliver vouchers directly to users.

“There are a lot of technical terms and buzzwords in the description of what it does, but that’s because it’s so new right now,” McHugh said of the technology. “We’re hoping that, this time next year, everyone will know what audio watermarking and second screen mean.”

McHugh said the second screen is already established as an extension of the living-room TV entertainment experience.

“When we’re designing a second-screen experience for a broadcaster, it’s important that the viewers are always at the heart of it. Commercially, it allows TV3 to exploit their existing editorial in a new way, and gives them a brand new product to bring to the advertising market here. For advertisers, it offers a direct link to the viewer on the second screen to fulfil a call to action on the first screen, which is very exciting, whether it’s an impulse buy, a Facebook follow, the possibilities are endless,” McHugh said.

The link between TV and online

Stephen Grant, TV3’s director of online, agreed and said that live TV activity drives online activity across a range of different websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and IMDB.

“As a broadcaster, we believe if we are making and showing the first-screen content that is driving this second-screen activity we are best positioned to create compelling, complementary second-screen content, too,” said Grant.

“ShowPal does this by a team of content producers viewing content pre-broadcast and creating links to interesting places linked to what happens on-screen. These are held in a content system and triggered into the app at the exact moment using the audio watermarking technology,” Grant said.

He added that TV3 intends to license the technology around the world. “We have some serious traction already in this regard.”

Regarding the relationship between ads and consumers, TV3 is trying to close the gap somewhat between seeing an ad message on TV and acting on it. With ShowPal, a viewer can be given the opportunity to buy a product or find out more information about what they see on TV more easily than before.

“One of the most frequent questions our viewers ask is where can they get the clothes they see on screen – ShowPal facilitates that,” Grant said.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 3 November

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years