What’s next for second screen experiences?

22 September, 2015 by Paul Heathcote | DesignStrategyMobile WebUser ExperienceWeb

A couple of stories in the news this week started me thinking about the so-called “second screen”. Most of the news has been about the diversion of eyeballs away from the main screen (i.e., the TV) by social media and the web, and the impact this could be having on the effectiveness of linear TV advertising. The opportunities typically discussed focus on delivery of related content (read: advertising) to the second screen.

There’s certainly been lot of activity in the market geared to getting video content onto tablets and smartphones – almost all major broadcasters and pure-play online services now have a smartphone and tablet offering. These apps seem to be about making smaller screens the main screen in any given context outside the living room - the hotel room, the train, the airport lounge or, as in the case of a recent taxi ride, the driver’s in-journey entertainment, with football streaming to a smartphone pinned to his windscreen (yes, he did have an uncapped tariff - I asked).

However one aspect of second screen that didn’t seem to be getting much attention until now is the dual screen user experience. By this I mean where the main screen - the TV- and the smartphone or tablet work together to become something new. There are some examples of where products have started to go this way, but they are so stealthily hidden and have been largely unadvertised that I think these features must have been something the engineering guys just built because it seemed cool, rather than because the product guys saw value. In some cases they are so hidden that they are practically Easter Eggs.

The most common apps out there today take the form of remote controls with a relatively dumb set of functions that replace the standard horrible plastic stick experience and provide a touch UI to access start stop rewind and some library functions. These have been around for a while on app stores for most of the major smart TV platforms and smart set top boxes, albeit with varying degrees of success (just read the reviews and you will see what I mean).

We are just starting to see the emergence of the next generation of these types of application which give us a clue about where things might go next. These new applications are starting to provide contextual information on trailers such as directing you to screenings, allowing you to share clips with friends and providing detailed information around the subject you’re viewing via a topics button. This type of service is very aligned with the kind of personal assistants that the major mobile OSs are beginning to deliver, providing real-time contextual notifications and messages to users.

These developments are just the beginning of what’s possible once the product guys really get their heads around this. The enabling technology is relatively straightforward, with devices communicating by virtue of being connected to the same wireless home network and pairing through a shared code. Anyone who can pair their phone with a Bluetooth headset or similar should find it a doddle, but clearly making the pairing as simple as possible will be a key driver of adoption. Image recognition or QR codes scanned by the app are a few simple examples of how this may work and are how many online two factor authentication mechanisms are.

Once the two devices are paired, the possibilities to develop new experiences that are better integrated with what’s happening on the main screen are really endless. To start with, there’s check-ins to programmes and games, commenting and discussing on social channels, recommendations, fan sites, links to contextual content and data like sports stats, access to parallel content for example “making of” alternative camera angles, data feeds - the cast list and their filmography, and the biggy, ecommerce links making it possible to seamlessly buy advertised or placed products, concert tickets or related content.

All of these potential features have one objective and one benefit for the owner of the main screen content - maintaining the audience’s attention around their content experience - and co-opting and even monetising the second screen through an even better user experience around the content on the main screen in the living room.