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Opinion piece: Is the second screen dead?

kjetil

The days of us all watching the same programs at the same time, and talking about them around the water cooler, are long gone.

 Technology has given us the ability to pause, rewind, fast forward, record and watch “catch up” TV. It has also brought us a huge increase in available content, not just from ‘traditional’ broadcasters but from multiple alternative – online – sources. Watching TV is now rarely a communal experience: more often, it is an individual experience, dictated not by what the broadcaster wants to broadcast, but what the consumer wants to consume.

 As that has happened, so too another phenomenon has surfaced – the phenomenon of universal interactivity. It’s true that the ability to control what we watch and when we watch it represents some degree of interactivity – but it’s as nothing when we compare it with the rich opportunities to interact that we now take for granted on our PCs, our laptops, our cellphones and our tablets.

 In fact, a generation is growing up – witness the famous “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” movie on YouTube – who cannot imagine that content can be anything other than interactive. That is one of the biggest challenges facing broadcasters and content owners today. Increasingly, what we want to do is to create experiences that are unique to us, that represent our individual desires and preferences.

 Beyond the ability to time shift, consumers have been given some limited ability to interact with and control what’s on screen – in programming such as live sports, for example. And yet…

 The most important challenge

 There is no doubt that engaging, retaining and monetizing viewers via interactivity is perhaps the most important challenge and the most important opportunity facing the broadcast industry today. 2016 needs to be the year when we begin to address that challenge and seize that opportunity.

 The fact is that, today, for the most part, there is a significant gap between what consumers have shown they want and what the industry is providing them. Television still, to a large extent, expects consumers to sit back and just watch.

 And if they want to know more or different about what they’re watching? If they want to engage rather than passively consume? Well, they can always turn to the ubiquitous second screen. What was the other movie that actor was in? What was the result the last time these two teams played each other? What are other people saying about this news item? It’s all there – but not on the TV screen.

 At Sixty, our business is built around understanding and redefining the TV experience – so we’ve done a considerable amount of work to create the best possible multi-screen experiences for our customers. We are now convinced that multi-screen is – or was – a great “stop gap” solution. It’s not, however, where we or the industry should be going.

 Why do I say that? The challenge with the second screen is that it all too easily provides distraction. It takes the audience out of the broadcast. In attempting to enrich the experience, some of the real richness is lost. The experience becomes diluted. Worse than that, for broadcasters: it weakens the bond between them and the consumer. The broadcaster becomes a “bit part” player in the experience – not the sole provider of it.

 Bridging the gap

 Second screen or multi-screen has been a great way of trying to bridge the gap between what consumers want and what broadcasters have been able to provide. Things could, however, be much better. We need to focus on delivering everything that consumers wants on a single screen of their choosing. Multi-screen needs to be unified into a single screen. When we do that, the second screen phenomenon dies, and we strengthen the bond between broadcaster and audience.

 At Sixty, we firmly believe that there is a pressing need to merge the interactivity of the second screen into the multiscreen linear TV experience. That gap between what consumers have shown they want on the one hand, and what the industry is providing them? We can close it. We can enable the traditional broadcast to come to life for our audience.

 For many people, that proposition makes a whole lot of sense. It does, however, raise what amounts to the $64 million question. “How?”

 That’s not as hard a question as you might think. Imagine that the audience is able to interact with the same data that the producers behind the broadcast production are interacting with. That way, we are not adding extra experiences to the online broadcast: what we are, in effect, doing is bringing the outside interactivity in to the linear television experience by making this experience come to life on any connected device – phone, tablet, set-top box or computer. In addition, since these are all devices that are connected in one digital ecosystem, they can be used alongside each other to create one large experience across several screens. And, if you´d like, you can control the different interactive elements from the other devices as well.

 Endless opportunities

 With interactive on-air graphics, the opportunities are endless. Data previously only known to the producer in the operator room can be served to the audience through the already well known design of a football match or golf tournament. By using your remote on the set-top box or your finger on a touch screen, the score bug, name super and tournament information come to life, and give you additional information. And, since it is all operated in a technology that interacts with your existing broadcast set-up, it uses the same data you have already implemented. That means that advanced data such as tracking data also can be used by the end user to enhance their engagement and experience. The possible applications are countless.

 We believe that Ease Live, the Sixty product that enables interactive on-air graphics to come to life on any connected device, represents a major paradigm shift in the broadcast industry – because it enables that gap to be closed between what consumers want and what they’re getting, and the gap between old and new ways of experiencing television.