Second-screen apps now key part of TV programming strategies

With the growth of active social media online communities, second-screen applications are now considered an important component for new television programming viewed across multiple distribution platform. Indeed, according to several major programming and studio executives who discussed the issue on Digital Hollywood panels at last week’s CES 2013 gathering, the second screen now has significant influence on how a program is positioned and, sometimes, whether it stays on the air or not.

“I would say the biggest shift in the last two years is that the second-screen experience used to be layered on to the program as an after-effect,” said David Anderson, senior vice president at Shine America, a producer and distributor of programming. “But now when we go into a network pitching a show, we go in there with components that might be a creative fit. We view them as part of a show.”

Although Anderson said most individual shows don’t yet have the ability to carry a second screen, the coming year will reveal a “more robust network approach” to the issue.

He noted, however, that the apps must be interesting to viewers.

“You can’t just throw up some trivia and some biographical information and expect viewers to find that compelling,” he said.

Renee Plato, senior vice president of digital distribution at Univision, agreed with the importance of a second screen.

“The overall experience needs to be a 360-degree experience that plugs into consumer behavior,” she said.

Her network, Plato said, is now offering synchronized content “not on a show-by-show basis but for the whole network,” as part of their UVideos platform. “It is really part of our DNA now.”

For some, working with third-party companies is the answer. Pam Schechter, vice president of business affairs and digital cable entertainment at NBCUniversal, said her network is increasingly working with Zeebox, a social TV company that provides additional content and ads synchronized with programs users are watching. NBCU and Comcast last year invested in Zeebox.

“We are interested in creating second-screen content by working with the creators and planning” right from the beginning, Schechter said. “Synchronization will be a big play for NBCU.”

Second-screen apps are now being built into the cable, satellite and Telco multichannel infrastructure. But most of the executives noted that sufficient funding for the second-screen efforts is a difficult problem.

“We are working hard to provide a connected experience,” said Balaji Gopinath, vice president of emerging technology at Turner Broadcasting. “We are spending a lot of time thinking about how we can monetize this. How can we get consumers engaged and how does content need to change across platforms?”

“The big challenge for us is: How do we pay for it?” said Beth Clearfield, senior vice president of digital and media and business development at BBC Worldwide.

This is very important, Clearfield said, because the apps engage viewers while the show is on the air and are important for building and maintaining interest when the show is off-air.

“We work with advertisers ... but we don’t always know when or how we can make money,” she said. 

The money problem must be overcome, said Shine America’s Anderson. who expected the networks and advertising sponsors to be intimately involved in the solution.

“It is something we have to do because it is so necessary to attract audiences,” Anderson said.