GAMES FOR TV: Dual-screen viewing is the buzz of the TV industry. Andrew McDonald reports on the latest innovations in the space.
Ahead of Apple’s first-generation iPad launch, amid much rumour and speculation, the New York Times famously exclaimed that there “hasn’t been this much hype about a tablet since Moses came down from the mountain.”
Fast-forward two years and with a third-generation iPad now on sale, there’s still an almost religious fervour about the possibilities presented by the device, with players from across the TV space keen to use it and other ‘second screens’ to engage audiences.
But what is the key to making tablets and smartphones work for TV viewers, and how are these devices changing the relationships they have with shows?
UK-based Monterosa is fast establishing itself as a specialist in this emerging space. While the firm has yet to branch out into the tablet-specific arena, it has developed second-screen content for Channel 4 shows such as The Million Pound Drop, Bank Job and New Look Style the Nation. The first two included live play-along games, with Bank Job’s TV contestants cast exclusively from those playing the online game, while Style the Nation viewers could engage by creating their own outfits online.
Monterosa co-founder and commercial director Tom McDonnell claims that second-screen programming extensions are no fad. He predicts they will become as ingrained in the years to come as telephone voting did in the 1990s through shows like Big Brother and Pop Idol, and says that the potential of such interaction on devices like the iPad goes far beyond a single type of programme. “Of course gameshows lend themselves to play-along, but that’s not to say that somebody next week won’t come up with the most fantastic scripted reality interaction mechanic that works perfectly,” he says.
Richard Morris, UK director of Amsterdam-headquartered Ex Machina, agrees there is huge potential. “The devices are there, the appetite’s there,” he says. “It’s just waiting for somebody to step up to the mark and do the big show.” He predicts the “new Endemols and Fremantles” will emerge from the small- to mid-sized prodcos that use the second screen, adding that these players will “create the new Pop Idols and the new reality shows” that will define the next 10 years.
Ex Machina specialises in second-screen games. It worked with RTL Nederland and Talpa to create an app for The Voice of Holland and also with FremantleMedia’s Screenpop division to develop another RTL Nederlands property: a live daytime gameshow called Intuïtie (Intuition), where the viewers act as the contestants and play the game at home on their second screen, be that an iPad, smartphone or PC.
“It’s about what more can happen and where we go with TV. If people at home can contribute, if they can win, if they can affect the outcome of the show and if they can bring along their friends – and that’s what second-screen is already about – we know that’s appealing,” says Morris.
Although he believes the future of the gameshow is bound up with second-screen experiences, Morris says it is possible to add immersive and social experiences to a range of genres.
In Israel, Screenz is another firm that is tapping into the potential of the second screen. A joint venture between Israeli broadcaster Keshet and ad firm and content agency The Box, it has worked on extensions for local versions of formats like MasterChef and Prisoners of War (aka Hatufim). For the latter (remade by Showtime in the US as Homeland), Screenz created a full backstory for the detained prisoners in the drama, complete with fictional newscasts and snippets of radio interviews designed to span 17 years.
Indeed, as the TV industry embraces the second screen, part of this process of change is that new ideas will increasingly be built into shows when conceived, rather than added later.
Emma Marlow is head of new media at IMImobile, which provides technology that delivers and monitors the live interaction between viewers at home and TV studio-based output. She says that while IMI can deploy its platform services within hours, “the concept and getting the programme-flow format right is where the work is, to make sure that’s both compliant and fits within the way the show’s going to work.”
One of the programmes IMImobile has worked on is Sky1 entertainment show Got to Dance. The competition was BSkyB’s first on-screen deployment of Zeebox, the UK-based social TV app in which it took a 10% stake earlier this year. An IMI-powered video wall was added to the studio set, with Zeebox users able to view the same studio-filtered social media feed on the Zeebox app, and send messages to the show using the service.
Zeebox launched last year, initially as an iPad-only app, and is the brainchild of former BBC iPlayer boss Anthony Rose and ex-EMI president Ernesto Schmitt. The app syncs what a user is watching on TV and offers real-time information – from websites such as Wikipedia – as well as audience ratings, chat and social media options such as built-in Twitter integration. Crucially for brands and broadcasters, the service can also act as an additional ad platform, the inventory for which is now controlled by Sky, under the terms of its investment.
Zeebox is one of a new wave of apps coming to the second-screen market, a space that was kick-started more than a year ago by social TV check-in services like Miso and GetGlue. Also competing are firms like Umami and IntoNow, which was bought out by Yahoo! last April for a rumoured US$30m just three months after its launch. Meanwhile, Shazam – originally a song-recognition service – is now jostling to offer second-screen programming extensions.
While all of these services can appeal to viewers on the strength of their own services, Rose concedes that for Zeebox to reach its full potential it needs the co-operation of content makers and broadcasters. “There’s a real opportunity to change the world, to develop and make the UK a hotbed of innovation in the space, and that opportunity comes from us working together,” said Rose at a Zeebox-organised industry event in February, designed to promote the ‘future of augmented television.’
What Zeebox and other apps can offer, and which broadcasters and production companies can’t do on their own, is reach a wider audience that cuts across network, programme and even national barriers. However, as the market develops, that has not stopped broadcasters from pursuing their own programme extension strategies.
“From a publisher or programmer perspective, based on my conversations with customers who are in that situation, they don’t want to completely surrender all their control of the second-screen experience to third parties,” says Jeff Whatcott, chief marketing officer at Brightcove. “They want to offer an alternative experience that is branded and offered by them, and that offers maybe information and social experiences around the content that would not be available to Zeebox or others.”
Though best known as an online video specialist, Brightcove has branched out to provide broadcasters and producers with the means to build their own app-based programme extensions. Lifetime has done so with shows including Army Wives and One Born Every Minute. NBC partnered with the firm on an Emmy-screener iPad app.
Simon Daglish, group director of commercial for UK broadcaster ITV, says part of the opportunity provided by the second screen lies in how naturally viewers find multi-tasking: “The idea that people are suddenly doing other things in front of the television is not new. Before second screens came along, people have knitted in front of the television, ironed in front of the television, read newspapers, magazines. The fact that they’re doing something separate to television is not new human behaviour.”
Daglish says that with the second screen “all to play for,” ITV is currently doing a number of trials that rank “very high” on its agenda. With more creative work in the space going on than ever before, ITV is in good company. With technology start-ups, broadcasters and the production companies all jostling for space, it’s a market that promises to keep growing in different directions.
As Monterosa’s McDonnell says: “We need to give it a year, maybe two years, before this just becomes part of the fabric. I’m absolutely optimistic about it – I’m almost 100% sure that interaction, or at least dual screen content, will become very normal. But I’m not going to over-hype how quickly that’s going to take place.”
What will surely help to decide the speed of this transition is the willingness for viewers to adopt to new devices like the iPad. As tablets become more of a staple in the home, second screen real estate is likely to be more in demand than ever from both broadcasters and advertisers, eager to use these devices’ ample screen size to make newer and more compelling content propositions available.