Broadcasters fed up with Shazam's, others' second-screen admonition?

Broadcasters must be tired of hearing from industry analysts, journalists and vendors that they must wake up to the second screen and start providing compelling apps that exploit its power.

Latest to dish out opprobrium is London-based Shazam, which certainly has a vested interest as a provider of second-screen synchronization technology. Shazam provides audio recognition by capturing a fingerprint comprising a few-second sample and comparing it with a database, and originally applied it just to music recognition within an app for the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and other devices.

It exploits the device’s microphone to capture the sample for comparison and elicit information about the song currently playing, such as artist and title, and displays this on the device screen. But, audio fingerprints can also uniquely identify video content, and so Shazam has more recently extended its market to second-screen applications, and cannot really complain about lack of interest from broadcasters.

UK Free-To-Air commercial broadcaster ITV successfully delivered advertising enabled by Shazam’s audio recognition during the final of the "Britain’s Got Talent" show in May 2012. According to ITV, about 50,000 viewers used the Shazam App to tag Pepsi Max and Cadbury ads in 60 seconds of airtime during special ad breaks during the show.

Viewers who had Shazam on their smartphones were able to enter contests to win summer music festival tickets from Pepsi Max and an Olympic Ceremony package from Cadbury, as well as participate in the conversation on social networks. The Pepsi Max "Crowd Surfing" football ad also included the chance to win other prizes, free merchandise and a link to download the Calvin Harris music track "Let’s Go."

More recently, Microsoft ran a Shazam-enabled TV ad campaign in the UK for the Internet Explorer browser. This ad, called "Beauty of the Web," featured the track "Too Close" by musician Alex Clare, generating a Shazam on-air prompt to let people know they could use the app to view live performances and interviews with Clare. They could also enter a competition to see Clare perform live in London.

With over 200 Shazam-enabled ad campaigns now having taken place, it is hard to identify what Shazam’s complaints are, unless it is that broadcasters and advertisers are moving too slowly. In fact, it looks like Shazam’s criticism is leveled outside its home market towards the U.S., judging by comments made by its CTO Jason Titus at the recent OTTtv World Summit in London.

There, he said that response rates from Shazam-enabled ads were higher in some European markets than in the U.S., including the UK, Spain and Italy.

“We have seen a much higher response in European markets,” he said. “Our first campaign in Spain was huge without a big marketing campaign.”

He suggested that in Europe people were more used to interacting with the TV, certainly in the UK, where red-button services allowing users to select different feeds of an event for example have been available for almost a decade. But, that does not sound quite convincing given that, in the U.S., DirecTV has also offered red-button services to its 20 million pay TV customers.

Still, Titus did at least have some useful advice for advertisers seeking to prolong or deepen engagement with viewers via companion screens. Experience so far suggested that they should not wait for the last few seconds of a spot ad to insert a call for further engagement via a second screen, but should get the message up front while the viewer is hopefully paying closer attention. It may then be the viewer breaks out of the spot ad for a longer form presentation on the second screen, or even to perform some action like a purchase or request for further information. Then, the spot ad will have served its purpose even if it has not been watched in its entirety.

One point that Titus did not make was that the second screen should be geared very much to the type of content and sometimes will have no place at all. This last point was apparently lost on the Netherlands-based digital watermarking specialist Civolution, which has developed a companion screen app for the cinema in partnership with apps company Service2Media and Dutch film production company 2CFilm. This involves Civolution’s SyncNow audio recognition technology in an app that will enable cinema audiences to follow a parallel storyline on a smartphone.

Apart from failing to recognize that people in a cinema want an immersive experience uninterrupted by second screens, this would also be annoying for people nearby. Even for viewing movies outside the cinema, which the three companies are also targeting with their app, it looks unlikely to catch on because movie watching tends to be an activity involving a degree of concentration. The second screen may have a role beside ads at the beginning or the end, but this was not the market Civolution was aiming at.

The message should be that the second screen will have a huge role, but it will be highly content specific.