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The second screen paradox

(Apologies in advance for the fact that in this post I will use this terrible verb: to second screen.)

In the US, Twitter is launching a new entertainment service with partner Comcast.  The new “see it” button will appear in tweets when someone shares a movie or TV show, allowing other users either to watch the show directly, record it or – for live events – book tickets.

This is a very nice user interface win for Comcast and Twitter, closing the gap between Twitter and consumable content.

It’s also further proof that live social media sharing is becoming a mainstream activity during broadcasts.  We’ve talked about “second screening” in our annual Digital Trends report for the past two years.  It’s obvious to anyone who’s ever sat there with a social network open on a phone, tablet or laptop that a second screen can add a new dimension to the viewing experience.  Indeed, research last year suggests 17%, rising to 37% of 18-24 year olds, have done precisely this.

But this emerging trend runs counter to another, bigger trend away from scheduled viewing.  Last week, the Director General of the BBC Tony Hall declared that from next year, iPlayer will allow viewers to watch shows for 30 days, including before they’ve even been broadcast.  He said, “imagine if you had the evening’s recorded schedule at your disposal – so you could sit at home and be your own scheduler, picking what you like, when you like, from our channels.”

The question you have to ask yourself is, where does second screening fit in to a tailored, unscheduled, anytime service? What value will it bring if too few others are engaged at the same time?  Without the trigger of the broadcast schedule, what level of social media response can we expect to see?

Here are some conclusions this line of thinking seems to support:

  1. Big shows, such as Doctor Who or Breaking Bad could still generate enough buzz that the moment they become available to consumers will still be a major “moment” for the second screen
  2. News, current affairs and sports events will still predominantly be scheduled, depending as they do on live events for their content and inspiration
  3. Smaller shows will likely dwindle into the long tail, and the second screen may as a result become a rather empty place
  4. There will be a new incentive to gather people together at predetermined times to recreate the “moment” – this could happen spontaneously, or even lead to “social scheduling” services, whereby groups of fans could agree to consume content together
  5. Shows will have to work ever-harder to become “events”, thus guaranteeing they are the most talked-about and, as a result the most-watched

Second screening has been growing for the past few years, and there’s no reason to think this will change course in the short-term.  But if you’re planning to launch a second-screen service, it might make sense to think about how it works as a trigger to consume content, over and above its ability to merely connect people who are in the process of viewing something in the published schedule.

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Peter Sigrist wrote this on October 14, 2013
It's filed in the News, Views box.
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  • Nice article Peter, I hope you’re well.

    I think second and third screening is the future but I find it can be as much of as a distraction as fun. If its a live event such as the Brits, the football then it can be really interesting but it’s not as great with something which is just scheduled. I think the correlation between buzz online and viewing figures that has recently been revealed was interesting. I think there will be a closer link between the two as things move forward.

    By Chris Norton on Oct 15, 2013

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