Second Screens, Out of the Trough!

AMSTERDAM — Just two years ago, people started talking about the iPad and labelling it as “totally disruptive,” which just means that it will change everything. Today, it both has and it hasn’t.

Second screen technology has been boosted by the formal adoption of HEVC. IBC’s exhibition halls house numerous companies offering different encoding solutions for multiscreen, many of which trumpet considerable bandwidth benefits of the new codec. Given the precarious state of European broadband, which presents an uneven picture, HEVC’s take-up is as likely to be as tied to the present HD broadcast infrastructure as it is to any forthcoming Ultra HD deployment.

A lot of debate about the second screen isn’t about the technology, which is almost considered a given now. Apart from a few innovations such as Civolutions’s audio watermarking that looks to tie second-screen experiences into time-shifted viewing, there isn’t even that much to say currently. The talk will be about the implementation of the second screen; how it can help broadcasters boost viewing figures without sucking the coffers dry, and how it gives them that all-important data return path to feed into big data initiatives.

IBC 2013 will have a lot about how broadcasters can create a genuinely ‘transmedia’ approach from commissioning onwards. That word is replacing ‘multimedia,’ which nowadays smacks too much of repurposing and half-hearted attempts to boost online profiles by flashing a #YourProgrammeNameHere graphic onscreen. Even the phrase second screen is starting to disappear, to be replaced by ‘companion screen,’ the reasoning being that the primary screen is always the one you’re looking at.

Creativity is required at all stages of the process and for all platforms.

“From four inches to 50 inches, all need amazing content, fantastic easy usability, connectivity and each needs to be able to serve as a companion to the other,” said Gerry O'Sullivan, Deutsche Telekom’s outgoing senior vice president of Global TV and Entertainment.

There have been some rather interesting surveys showing how the companion screen is changing viewing habits recently. Taking the United Kingdom as an example, the latest figures from the U.K.'s TV Licensing Authority in its 2013 TeleScope report (based on 2012 survey data) suggest that 40 percent of all tweets during peak-time hours are about TV programs, while tablet penetration has reached 11, and 49 percent of viewers use smartphones or tablets while watching. Contrast this to only 5 percent of U.K. households possesisng a Connected TV, and 35 percent of those not having connected that device to the Internet.

The Gartner Hype Cycle charts the introduction of new technology via distinct phases, with the first three being Technology Trigger, Peak of Inflated Expectations, and the aptly-named Trough of Disillusionment.

The sense is, that with the companion screen, the industry is past these three phases and setting off up the Slope of Enlightenment and towards the Plateau of Productivity. In other words, we are getting to the point where there is the chance to properly monetise all this effort. Connected TV itself, however, seems to be firmly languishing in the Trough, bedevilled by connectivity problems and poorly designed user interfaces.

Broadcast is still chasing social media, however. Indeed, one of the big conference keynotes at IBC is with Twitter U.K.’s general manager, Tony Wang, which raised questions such as ‘Should networks and advertisers be paying attention to a Twitter-based ratings service? And can a programme's engagement be evaluated on social media alone?’

Probably yes, and possibly not. One surprising bit of data from a survey published by the U.K.’s communications regulator Ofcom in August suggests that rather than technology pulling family time apart, the huge growth in tablets and smartphones is actually luring teenagers out of their bedrooms and back into communal family spaces—driven by event television on large screens.

The report also updated the number of tablet owners with more current 2013 data, more than doubling inside a year to 24 percent. That means that there are an average of three devices in every U.K. household capable of accessing the Internet, with one in five homes having more than six. And if that growth continues it probably will be, like, totally disruptive, dude.

One coda that’s worth noting is that of these figures do not just disrupt business in the established West. There is plenty of data starting to come out of emerging markets that suggests the enormous growth in mobile usage and rapid upgrade of networks is going to mean that entire continents almost will be able to jump a technological generation or two.