TV’s Strength Is The Second Screen

TV numbers aren’t shrinking.

It counteracts conventional wisdom, that tv should have it’s revenue grow in an era of time shifting, PVRs, piracy and streaming. But it’s true.

To be fair, we’ve been able to time shift (with a VCR) since the 70s, even though the PVR makes it easier, 95% of television is still watched within 24hrs of the first broadcast.


The reason?  Social.  The second screen is driving television viewing. The little “bug” in the lower right corner of tv shows no longer is just for the logo of the broadcaster, hashtags are showing up to drive the backchannel conversation online.  #glee, #thebachelor, #thevoice, and more are popping up during all the big shows.

The second screen, (phones, tablets, laptops), that people so often watch alongside the programs is turning television into must see / must chat tv.  The hashtags are encouraging people to join the live back channel conversation about the program.  Cat-calling outfits on The Bachelor, loving the music on Glee or cheering on contestants on The Voice or American Idol online is an integral part of the tv experience.

Where generations used to have “water cooler” chats about Seinfeld, Friends, Dynasty and others, the “water cooler” is now a second screen with a conversation involving millions.

By pushing the hashtags and encouraging the back channel, broadcasters have a legitimate defence against the PVR that would have people fast forwarding through commercials.

While you can engage in the hashtag conversation on social networks, some are creating specific apps to drive engagement.


citytvipad.jpgCityTV’s Social Stream app is all things Bachelor with threaded conversations pushed out to twitter and facebook but gathered inside a smooth experience.

There is a great argument put forth that every network website and app should flip into “second screens” for each program.  Gathering the conversation and creating hype and enthusiasm for the back channel will drive the front channel experience.  Not only is there a chance to monetize the second screen, you’re driving numbers to the live experience of the first screen where the real gravy is made.

Into Now from Yahoo! is trying to do that sort of thing for the networks. It recognzes your program based on ambient audio in the room (think Shazam but for tv) and then links you in to all things social related to that program.

Get Glue is a similar app, where you “check in” as you would on FourSquare and can then track friends and the social web to see who is watching, listening and talking about entertainment.  Bonus for Get Glue users are spanky little stickers you can collect.


It’s not just entertainment that is driving second screen engagement.  Sports is something that is a MUST to watch live and all you have to do is witness the explosion of hashtags during the Super Bowl to realize that the conversation can continue after a commercial is over.

In fact, in some cases the #hashtag replaced last year’s Facebook page address, but the good old corporate dot com had a big return.

An entire Social Media Command Center was created for the game in Indianapolis. More than 40 people were in the center monitoring the social networks to drive conversations, answer fan questions and raise the level of engagement.

In an ESPN interview with the Raidious CEO, Jackson stated “We saw a way Indianapolis could take things to next level in terms of how we use social media to deliver a great visitor experience. If they’re online talking about anything about this [Super Bowl experience], we’re able to determine that and respond to them.”

The second screen was effectively employed by those not even broadcasting the game.  SportsNet tapped into the power of Fantasy Football by having fans sign up to pick rosters of players to compete against friends.  The engagement was kicked up when fans were allowed to adjust their rosters each quarter based on performance.  A live game, with real online engagement.


And it’s just getting started. There were more than 700 000 tweets during Obama‘s State of the Union address.  GOP debates have been rabidly commented and hashtagged on Twitter.  As the presidential campaign pushes forth through the rest of the year expect the conversation to heat up online and for broadcasters to try and own that conversation.


There’s just one wish I have for this rise of the second screen – that it stay on the second screen.  It’s great if broadcasters can create hubs for the conversation to be aggregated, but when they start reading tweets on air, they lose context.

The conversation is fast and flippant in the back channel.  It’s a very valuable tool that can add humour, call bs and cheer on the program – but it shouldnt be part of the program. 

I can sift through the tweets on my own, if I can just get them to slow down. (video is real time of the #thevoice hashtag after the Super Bowl)