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Why second screens are critical to engagement

Why second screens are critical to engagement John Douglas

Well done, everyone. Second screens are here to stay, and they've transformed the digital landscape. But now it's time to stop cheerleading and start doing something about it. We've waited this long to build a second screen audience, but now that we finally have their attention, what are we doing with them? Behind all the marketing jargon to differentiate one second screen player from another, the most important component of any digital revolution is being ignored -- the consumer.

Until now, the industry has focused on what second screen technology can do and not what consumers can do with it. A brand relationship is about more than just providing Twitter feeds, links to IMDb, and quizzes. This is not a simple competition for eyeballs, but rather a race for brand engagement -- the ultimate goal of any producer, content owner, or advertiser.

How second screens are critical to engagement

The simple act of leaning back and watching TV is undoubtedly one desired outcome for every content producer, distributor, broadcaster, and advertiser. But is it the best one for both the viewer and the brand? Let's leverage the distracted viewer. If consumers are fiddling with their tablets and smartphones while they watch TV, maybe they simply want something to do! That very distraction is an opportunity for content owners and advertisers to latch on.

Second screen wish list

I'd love to see a program's second screen experience developed into something that creates more viewership than the program itself. Let's stop talking about Netflix driving viewers into marathon viewing comas and instead ask how content producers and distributors are making content and stories to specifically enhance a TV show's brand on the second screen. Make second screen content part of the storytelling magic. What if a viewer could get a Wikipedia style back story on their favorite TV characters?  Done! What about giving "House of Cards" fans access to "archival" campaign videos of Frank Underwood's first run for Congress? Done!

Give viewers more layers of reality to engage with as part of the storytelling process, and every screen can work for you. The potential for deepening the viewer's connection to a story is limited only by our creative imagination. Want to talk social? Twitter feeds for characters should be the rule, not the exception.

Advertisers also need to embrace fragmentation -- now. We've seen that synchronized ads bring higher engagement, so why wouldn't we make this a reality? Bridging a call to action with brand awareness is only the first step -- evaluating the effectiveness of a TV spot against the outcome or behavior the advertiser is striving for is the next. Is the viewer sharing the content? Are they requesting more information from the brand? Or are they downloading (and later using) a digital coupon? These are questions advertisers and brands need to be asking themselves to create compelling and engaging second screen content. It's no easy feat for content owners and producers to create complex storylines for second screens alongside the primary programming, but while the content owners are busy figuring out that piece of the puzzle, advertisers have a fantastic playground at their feet.

Nursing the consumer relationship: the MVPDs

Finally, let's not forget the multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) -- they have actual relationships with consumers, too. MVPDs provide the set top boxes, the TV subscriptions, and the internet connections. Behind the remote control and those ugly boxes is in fact a wealth of data detailing people's viewing habits.

I've had my own app attacks, but the one app I keep on going back to is Uverse. It's easy enough to search, read details on a show, and get original air dates. And, most importantly, it's easy to control the set top box and DVR schedule. The second my wife's favorite show goes on an ad break, I'll change the channel or setup recordings for my viewing time -- after she relinquishes the remote. In no way am I suggesting the remote control is a killer app, but I do question whether or not MVPDs have a bigger role to play.

From an advertising point of view, it makes perfect sense for the MVPDs to get involved -- they garner data on what you've watched or haven't watched; they know your name, address, and billing information. They might even know more of our household details than we'd care to admit. Offering up relevant synchronized ads and enabling those advertisers to funnel transactions through them is immensely powerful. The question is, will MVPDs go for it and actually tread these waters?

Living in beta

I don't remember who said "living in beta" first, but no truer words have ever been spoken. We're no longer constricted by the technology -- it's already here to serve us. In question is our will to push the boundaries and ignore the fear that comes with making a few mistakes along the way. Audio and video automatic content recognition (ACR) opens so many doors for content and ad synchronization across screens, and now gesture and voice controls have the potential to reshape the game again.

There's a lot to be excited about. Let's make it happen for the industry -- and for the consumer.

John Douglas is a product marketing leader at DG.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Girl texting on the couch while watching TV and doing homework" image via Shutterstock.

John Douglas is the Product Marketing Leader for Converged Media Services at DG.  In his current role, John is focused on establishing a common platform for advertisers and agencies to execute and manage synchronized second screen campaigns,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Chris Chasty

2013, March 20

Second screen viewing is definitely on the rise and I have seen some great uses so far by advertisers and content producers:

Lately I've noticed Shazam embedded in commercials on TV (US Navy for instance).

HBOGo also has a very cool interactive second screen experience for their shows such as Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones that provides a large amount of content that corresponds with the segments of the show in real time. While watching the interface updates the additional content while viewing. You can view in depth character bios, maps of the locations, video interviews with actors and film crew, and more.