The attention span of today's viewer is split between many screens. Chances are, watching one program on the "main" screen means you'll be tweeting, facebooking, checking out the latest football score, or choosing what to order for dinner on your smartphone or tablet. Sound familiar?
We've seen the tweeting force during high-stakes live TV with the presidential debates and with one Austrian plummeting 24 miles from space, almost breaking the speed of light -- not to mention YouTube viewing records.
Such online fervor is a veritable goldmine for content owners, who have been talking (or perhaps shouting!) about the value of tying big screen programming to second screen extras. That's all good, but there is one group on the sidelines of the conversation -- advertisers.
The great lag
The advertising industry has been dragging its knuckles in adapting to this undeniable shift in consumer behavior. Interactive TV advertising has always been about on-screen supers and finally making use of those multicolored buttons on the remote control. But people are putting down their remotes and freeing their fingertips to jump between screens, and they are not necessarily always staring at the big one in their living room waiting for the mighty call of a brand to appear. In fact, for the Millennial generation, we should not even assume that the TV is the primary screen. The instant a phone buzzes, it takes over any activity, including watching TV.
According to a report from IAB, 47 percent of tablet owners have used a mobile device to respond to something on screen. Advertisers and mobile publishers should take advantage of this behavioral shift to mainstream, new, innovative advertising experiences.The massive momentum of "split-screen" eyeballs should lead to a flood of new advertising related experiences for consumers on the second screen. But beyond the buzz of social marketing and plain-Jane mobile display ads, just how are advertisers really leveraging this opportunity?
Craving real-time creative
Chevy's Super Bowl Game Time app was a success, but how feasible is it to repeat the one-off success of such an app? Another example is MTV, which dipped its toes in the app water only recently, but what about other brands and advertisers? To date, there has been very little consensus on how to successfully execute campaigns that transcend multiscreen channels.
We're past the point of running campaigns that simply have a TV component and an independent online component. We need to start talking about advertising in which the TV creative actually exposes specific and unique online experiences in near real-time for consumers, where content on one screen synchronizes with that on another and delves into an experience relevant to the viewer. Get it right and it's a tremendous opportunity for advertisers to further enhance brand awareness, extend brand engagement, and present a relevant and timely call-to-action.
Attack of the app
To date, apps have been the most popular way of garnering consumers' attention across second screens. By May this year, downloading apps onto a phone was even more popular than trawling the internet on a phone -- 50.1 percent of subscribers used apps (up 1.6 percent) versus mobile browser usage, which was 49.8 percent (up .6 percent).
While social TV apps might be all the rage in the industry, it doesn't mean people are abandoning their favorite apps. They might be texting, viewing the latest viral hilarity, or engaging in other second screen twiddling that has little, if anything, to do with the show on the main screen.
IAB also cited 28 percent of tablet owners have downloaded an app related to a show they watch. While promising, consumers overall are still relatively dissatisfied with the mobile sites and apps they download, with 54 percent saying they're often simply not worth the effort.
Conundrum of the casual viewer
Devoted fans of a show or an event might take the effort to consciously activate their smartphones to get access to even more content, but what about the casual viewers? Outside of certain types of televised programs, like live sporting events or reality TV, apps are the accessory the average viewer simply doesn't need this season. Social TV platforms have the potential to address this issue, but there's simply too much fragmentation in the app marketplace today and too much competition for consumers' eyeballs for any advertiser to put all faith in one bucket. With the app marketplace continually expanding, whose apps should or could be the platform of choice for interactive advertising? The TV networks? Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs)? The TV programs?
Here's an idea: Why not all of them? Let's embrace the fragmentation instead of fighting it.The way the marketplace is structured now, running synchronized campaigns across TV, online, and mobile means coordinating separately with each app. If advertisers only work with one app at any given time, the chances of running a synchronized ad to run are reduced dramatically. Think about it -- people have to be using the right app and be tuned to the right channel at the right time. The only way to reach a meaningful audience size is to increase the apps running synchronized ads, and use a diverse set of technology to capture both live and time-shifted viewing.
Got the tech, what next?
However distracted the viewer might be and however many apps might flood the marketplace, the good news is the technology already exists for advertising across second screens, with real-time synchronization of ad content and the option for richer, more focused brand engagement. And companies at the forefront of this technology are already providing advertisers and agencies with the capabilities to serve campaigns across platforms.
The future, now
Let's look on the bright side. Somewhere in the not too distant future, advertisers will finally join the conversation and "win" by reaching exactly who they need to reach -- at the right place, at the right time, and with the right message -- on any screen. Synchronizing ads on one screen to content on another is currently the best way to bridge that consumer reach.
This idealized vision would ultimately translate into the smoother management and execution of campaigns -- across any screen: TV, online, or mobile.
John Douglas is the product marketing leader for converged media services at DG.
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