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X Factor to unlock second screen for Sky Italia

Sky Italia is making a big play for the second screen by launching a social media gaming platform that will start off by encouraging viewers to interact via smartphones, tablets and PCs with its satellite version of X Factor 2012, the TV talent show created by Simon Cowell. So far, pay TV operators have struggled to capture second-screen audiences, despite surveys showing that people are using these devices for activities relating to the shows being shown.

According to a study just conducted by London-based content creation and playout company Red Bee Media, broadcasters, pay TV operators and content owners are all guilty of failing to exploit the proliferation in second-screen activity. The survey found that 78 percent of viewers think smart devices are a better way to engage with TV shows than alternatives such as red-button functionality or telephone call-ins, but that 19 percent consider it not worth the effort at present given the poor level of interaction offered by broadcasters or operators.

But Sky Italia thinks it has found the way to bring in this second-screen traffic through its new platform based on HyperTV’s eXperience technology for developing and publishing TV companion apps for multiple screens and devices. This enables a combination of gaming, social network integration, content presentation and discovery, along with support for location based functionality. But the operator, the largest in Italy with almost 5 million subscribers, also realized it needs to launch a companion platform around a popular show, such as X Factor, suited to second-screen engagement.

“Content technology has always been one of the principal assets for Sky, and this interesting test is further proof of our commitment,” said Remo Tebaldi, executive producer of X Factor and Sky. “We are amazed with the results and the comments we received from our subscribers, and are considering how to apply this experience to other content.”

The next step after capturing the second-screen audience is to monetize it, and here Sky Italia will be encouraged by another finding from the Red Bee survey, which is that 44 percent of dual-screen users already use their second screen to find out more about brands or advertising, while 56 percent are open to receiving targeted ads through synchronous apps based on products featured on TV. Furthermore 40 percent would be willing to receive offers or promotions on their smart devices based on products featured on TV.

HyperTV, itself based in Rome, was chosen by Sky Italia in the belief it provides the level of synchronization needed for revenue-generating interactive activities including targeted advertising. It enables the second screen to synchronize with the content down to frame-level accuracy so that the precise part of the programme being played can be identified. The platform also supports micro payments so that people could use their second screens for click to purchase items advertised on the big screen without having to enter credit card details.

A key requirement was the ability to synchronize the second screen with the broadcast service directly without relying on the broadband connection. HyperTV has achieved this on its eXperience platform by teaming up with Dutch video and audio watermarking specialist Civolution. HyperTV is using Civolution’s audio watermarking to enable the second screen to identify broadcast content by detecting via its microphone sounds comprising just a few bits of data that are inaudible to the user.