The Battle for the Second Screen

Advances in smart TVs, set-top boxes, and cord-cutting services have driven some important improvements in TV viewing for most consumers. But there’s still one glaring hole when it comes to a truly modern connected TV experience: synchronized second screen content.

The vast majority (75-80% according to a recent survey conducted by TECHnalysis Research of over 3,000 consumers across the US, UK, Germany, Brazil and China) of device-owning people who watch TV admit to using their additional devices, such as notebooks, tablets, and smartphones, while viewing. So the obvious question is, why not try and link the two device experiences together?

In fact, the case for doing so gets even stronger when you look into what people are doing on those second screens while they’re watching TV. In the case of PCs, the top five activities conducted on a PC while watching TV are: browsing the web in general, reading personal email, online shopping, browsing the web for content tied to what they’re watching (over 39% said they did this), and reading the news.

On tablets, the top five activities are browsing the web in general, browsing for content tied to what they’re watching (just over 38% of tablet owners responded to this option), reading personal email, reading the news, and social media. Interestingly, for 25-34-year olds, the top activity on a tablet while also watching TV was browsing for TV content-related information.

Even on smartphones, there’s a strong link. Not surprisingly, texting/messaging is the most common smartphone activity while also watching TV, followed by social media, general web browsing, browsing for TV content-related information (36% of respondents), and then reading personal email. Interestingly, texting about content on TV was actually the sixth most common activity on smartphones across all age groups, but was the second most common for 45-54-year olds.

The key takeaway from all this is that nearly 40% of people surveyed are already making the effort to manually tie together what they’re watching on the big screen to the small screen in front of them. Imagine how much higher that percentage could go if there was some mechanism for connecting the devices automatically?[pullquote]Nearly 40% of people surveyed are already making the effort to manually tie together what they’re watching on the big screen to the small screen in front of them. Imagine how much higher that percentage could go if there was some mechanism for connecting the devices automatically?”[/pullquote]

Of course, this is easier said than done. There’s no standardized method of transmitting what people are currently watching on their TVs to other devices, although audio analysis technologies (similar in concept to what Shazam does for music) can—in theory, at least—recognize what people are watching by listening to the audio content of the program. Plus, these technologies can do so in a way that is independent of a show’s programmed time slot, and can compensate for DVR recordings, streaming from the web, and other common forms of TV viewing. The problem is, these recognition technologies have been around for a long time—some quick web searches pointed to initial efforts from almost 10 years ago—and none have found mainstream acceptance.

To my mind, this seems like a great big data/cloud analytics opportunity, so I have to presume work continues to evolve in this area. Even once you can accurately identify what people are watching, however, that still has to be translated into a range of web-based “responses.” At a simple level, taking people to a particular program’s website is a reasonable first step, but there are a whole range of rich opportunities for linking to related content, shopping opportunities, and much more. Plus, with some additional intelligence, there would be an additional level of personalization that would be possible. In other words, if you and I were both watching the same program, we wouldn’t necessarily receive the same links for further browsing and exploration.

Like many of the technologies I expect we’ll see at the upcoming 2016 CES, the concept of a smart, connected TV viewing experience isn’t new. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to leverage the enormous range of devices and connectivity options now ubiquitous in homes around the world to drive a new set of experiences consumers will truly appreciate. After all, in the tech business, timing is everything.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

832 thoughts on “The Battle for the Second Screen”

  1. “Even once you can accurately identify what people are watching, however,
    that still has to be translated into a range of web-based “responses.”
    At a simple level, taking people to a particular program’s website is a
    reasonable first step,”

    No. A whole world of no. The ways people surf in relation to what they’re watching at the same time are going to be too diverse and too diffuse for any centralized solution to be any use.

    And I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that the *last* thing most people would want is some kind of top-down, sanitized, broadcaster-approved show-related content.

    1. I can understand how that would be an issue.

      However, it doesn’t need to be: I’d assume a “TV-tag” standard to identify what we’re watching (ultra/infrasound tones probably, I think the Chromecast already uses those for setup), that show info could be used by *any* app. Only the most short-sighted TV station (I know…) would force its viewers into a subpar proprietary companion app, if that is shown to turn away a significant share of potential users.

      Say, if I can get 20% of the audience to use my station’s app, or 15% of audiences to use my station’s app and another 15% to use some other app and generate 3% extra viewership and 50% of captive-appers’ revenue that way, I’m coming out on top in both viewership and revenue by allowing alternative apps. Especially if the alternative apps are what users already use (FB, twitter…) thus creating the possibility of a much larger viewership upside.

      Actually, I’d be interested in the reverse: a way to allow vierwers to drive their TV from their phone, ie switch to a show because I saw an interesting Twit about it. Some Androids do have an IR blaster, and can act a remotes.

      And lastly, the app is there, doesn’t mean you *have* ti use it. They’d have to make it good for us. I hear QVC is making a killing with theirs.

    2. Yup. Don’t want to imagine the utter dreck and commercialized garbage that would flood into my home while massively invading my privacy and data-mining my devices.

      Are there any sane people left in this world? Who are the idiots who want to supplement the low-brow smegma from their commercial TV with lower-brow flotsam from the web?

      The earth could use a good plague right now.

      1. First, the apps would be voluntary and optional, so nothing would “invade” anything that we didn’t invite in and choose to use.

        Second, not everything is low-brow junk, there could be interesting uses for kids programs, classic films, any show really. And even low-brow junk, who are we to judge ? I highly recommend as educational viewing.

        I think one issue bigger than companion apps is reactionary and pretentious jerks dooming ang glooming about random stuff, mostly “others”. Let’s make that plague selective :-p

        1. The know-it-all with an opinion about everything calling me “pretentious.”

          “… so nothing would “invade” anything that we didn’t invite in and choose to use.”

          You’re not up to speed on how this whole internet thing works, are you. You remain blissfully unaware of the amount of data you provide to entities you don’t know about without ever giving explicit permission for any of it.

          Silly me. I forgot. You know everything.

        2. While I agree with you, I can add something.
          Sometimes, while watching a video on my pc, I make a search in my tablet on related material. And sometimes I find things unrelated (more or less) that are really interesting to me, and which I didn’t know about. So I store the link for later viewing.
          My concern is that this serendipity can be lost with what is know being proposed.
          What’s wrong with doing a research on your own? Are we becoming this lazy?

          1. You’ve got a point, but there are valid cases for needing to be very hand-held:
            – kids, seniors, and the technically inept
            – really interactive stuff; ie training videos w/exercises, shopping, game shows. It’s not just about “more info on…”, it’s also about more features, interactivity (1 or 2 way)…
            – Generic search is not the quickest: I often have to try several results before finding the best one. Plus as a non-native speaker, I sometimes struggle to formulate queries; it’s not unusual for me to have to rephrase or look up synonyms (“team” vs “roster”, even “update” vs “patch” still trips me) or simply not identifying actors, places… leading to a 2-step search. While still trying to follow the show…

          2. NO! Kids and seniors are precisely the people who should NOT be tracked and data mined. And children cannot legally opt-in.

            Your definition of “hand-holding” is a privacy nightmare. This entire concept is creepy and evil.

            Enough of these private spy agencies pretending to be solving our most pressing problems through data mining and analytics.

            NO ONE is asking for this “problem” to be solved! It is all an unregulated steaming pile of B.S.!!!!!!!

          3. You misunderstood opt-in: not a legal term but a technical one, you’ve got to install the app to use it., so that’s voluntery opt-in. Y’oure neither isntalling the app nor using only you deliberately do so.

            Why should kids and senior be tracked and datamined less than teens and adults ? Why are they and their parents/guardians less able to make that decision for themselves ? If accepting to be is a way to get nice stuff, should they not get it, only the rich who can pay for it ?

            Who’s pretending to solve the most pressing problems via ads& tracking ? I know lots who are actually giving us free stuff in exchange, but pretending to solve our “most pressing problems” (hunger ? illness ? …) not really.

            NO ONE is saying it is a problem, it’s an opportunity. I’d actually like my kids to have edu content to go with their shows, etc…

            And finally, no one has said those should be/would be trakc or ad funded (some would be, probably not all, there might be a pay-switch like now on Youtube…)

            Indeed, something is a pile of BS ^^

          4. You misunderstand pretty much everything.

            Such bewildering naïveté and misplaced trust in nameless corporations. You seriously don’t have a problem with kids being spied on?

            Other than you, who said anything about installing apps? That wasn’t the point of the article and it isn’t what is being discussed. Are you reading the article and understanding it to mean that people want to download an app for every show they watch?

            You ties you shoes?

          5. That is the point. I don’t want anything to “show up” on my devices. The idea of a third party monitoring my television is evil.

            Don’t just read. Try to understand.

          6. Good news for you: things don’t just show up magically on your phone’s screen, you got to install and run an app. That’s how computers work !

          7. Did you read the article? Do you know what day it is?

            Isn’t it your nap time?

    3. While I understand your point, quite a few TV folks are getting their acts together regarding their web properties and putting together a reasonable set of companion content. Not all, to be sure, and as I said in the piece, there’s much richer opportunities to tie in other content, but the point is, many people are doing this anyway, so why not turn it into a smarter business opportunity?

  2. Just a thought, but maybe somebody is already doing this in other parts of the world. If going to the programmes website is important, I can envision QR-codes being put somewhere on the screen, for example, and QR-codes are quite common in Asia.

    In Japan, our digital broadcasting network allows for a limited amount of interactivity. Using the remote control, we can send back to the TV station which button on the remote we pushed (from a selection of four colours). This system is used on the morning programme I watch every day to collect entries for a lottery. It’s also used for online polling. Each TV set is given a unique ID (via a chip on a card), so the TV station knows who we are. Analysing this might give you some ideas on how interactivity could be put to use.

    Using smartphones for this interactivity makes a lot of sense. And as I said, I think the technology is already there. It’s a QR-code.

  3. Take a look at and app that provides an easy platform for shared viewing. The stream is buffered so all see and hear the same thing at the same time. Video chat and text while viewing.

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