'Second screen' apps top 2011 viewing trends

Second screen apps — software applications that run on smartphones or tablets and complement television viewing — have become very popular this year.

Watching television used to be a passive activity, but now the web and devices like Apple’s iPad, iPhone and other smartphones have turned television into an interactive experience.

According to a study published in January by Yahoo’s advertising division, 86 percent of people who use the mobile Internet use their mobile device while watching television. Of those using their mobile device, 25 percent said they are browsing content related to the program they are watching.

Despite the increasing use of time-shifting devices like DVRs and TiVO, which allow viewers to record and watch TV shows at any time, there has been significant growth in synchronous social networking around TV shows, reported Read/Write Web.

For example, GetGlue is an app that in April announced it already had one million users. At that time it also had 100 million data points — likes, reviews and check-ins — representing connections between television entertainment and people. With GetGlue, the viewer essentially checks in to a TV show he or she likes.

This allows the viewer to talk about the show with other people who are also watching it — an activity that is becoming increasingly popular. April turned out to be a high point for the company with about four million check-ins. Other companies in this space include IntoNow (acquired in April by Yahoo!), Miso and PHILO.

When it comes to real-time social networking, Twitter is a place of much activity. Last January, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo discussed what he called “the Glee phenomena” at the Consumer Electronics Show.

“The characters on Glee actually tweet and they tweet during the show,” Costolo said. “When Glee starts, the moment it airs for the first time on the East Coast, the tweets per second for Glee shoot up.”

“They stay up there at a super high level at hundreds of [times] what they are before the show comes on until the moment the show ends and then they drop. [...] People feel like they have to watch the show while it’s going on because the community is tweeting about the show and the characters are tweeting as the show’s happening so [they have to] watch it in real time.”

Another app, WiO, enables TV watchers to immediately get information about the products and services they see advertised on screen — both in TV commercials and within the shows themselves. Through a mobile app running on customers’ phones, marketers can offer a variety of follow-up actions to the TV viewer. Coupons, reminders and contact info are three of the overall 10 follow-up actions. The consumer controls which ones, if any, they respond to.

Connected TV bolsters these apps. Take Google TV and set-top boxes like Roku and Boxee. These aren’t second screen apps, but all of them complement those apps and some will be development platforms for them. These services are steadily eroding the audience of cable television, so in that sense they are becoming increasingly important to second screen apps.

In May, Roku announced that it had reached 15 million channel downloads from more than one million people on its service. The “big four” channels, as Roku calls them, are Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora and Amazon Instant Video. Roku estimates that 15 to 20 percent of its users are cutting the cord on cable television.