Trend: Mobile-TV apps profiting from televised events networks paid billions to cover

Very easily. Content producers such as ESPN can create content on a mobile-TV app and pull away some of the share of people watching the Olympics, which NBC Universal paid $4 billion for, and it won’t cost them a dime. Welcome to the world of second-screen engagement, where you can piggyback a huge event and pay nothing while raking in huge mobile-TV profits.

It’s no secret that when it comes to large televised events such as entertainment and sports, networks pay billions for full coverage. There is nothing like not only locking in to the rights, but also locking out the coverage from others. This could happen with anything from the Super Bowl to the Oscars to the Olympics. The networks can easily make the money back — at least, that is the hope — by offering advertisers an exclusive way to get in on the action. But a growing demographic is making a lot of progress, and the path to get there can cost little to nothing.

Second screen is the concept of having a second screen running while you watch TV, typically on a mobile-TV device or tablet. The advantages are clear: As interactive as smart TVs are now getting, nothing beats the immediacy and interactive nature of having a mobile device right at your fingertips. But the biggest benefit for networks is that they don’t have to spend the huge budget on securing the rights, they just tag along for the ride.

ESPN, for example, has stated that it would like to be a second screen for all sporting events, whether it is on its network or not. It wants to brand itself as the co-viewing go-to option. When there is a Sunday NFL game, ESPN sees its mobile versions spike to quadruple of the normal rate, even though ESPN doesn't even carry the game. Tracking usage like this shows definite patterns that users are looking for supplemental information on mobile to enhance what they are seeing on broadcast. Of course, this can be tricky, and lining up with an event needs to be handled correctly. Using terms such as “the Big Game” (Super Bowl) and “Red Carpet” (Oscars) signal to consumers exactly what is being covered, without actually using or infringing on any trademarks.

But the huge potential is there. When networks and content providers plan ahead, and create engaging content locked in with social networks such as Twitter, they can ride a huge wave alongside an event and never have to worry about rights. It’s worth thinking about for all creative content providers targeting the mobile-TV space: What kind of supplement can I add to a large event already going on? What can be added to enhance the TV experience from a mobile-TV perspective?

Certainly worth investigating, as second-screen engagement is poised to dramatically ramp up in 2012. The only questions may be — are you ready for it, and what can you offer to enhance existing events?