One Screen Or Two?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked these days, when I am presenting on TV’s future, is whether Smart TVs will replace 2-screening. There is a common perception that 2-screening is an interim solution, and as TV sets themselves become connected – either through Smart TVs or attached devices – many of the functions currently carried out on laptops, smartphones and tablets could migrate to the big screen at the centre of the living room.

Two major pieces of research launched in the past few weeks help to answer that question.

OFCOM’s 2012 report (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr12/CMR_UK_2012.pdf) supports my long-held view that 2-screening has a long and exciting future. According to the research, many Smart TV owners (currently 5% of the population but expected to rise to around 20% by 2014) had placed connectivity way down their priority list when they decided to upgrade their TV set. They were unsure of the benefits to begin with; many still are. Among those who are connected, usage is irregular and is based predominantly on ‘more TV’ – mainly catch-up TV and premium content. Even among these early adopters, there is little evidence that the TV screen is being used in a radically different way.

They may not be doing much else besides watching more TV but the question remains; are they consuming ‘television’ (in the widest sense) in a radically different way? My current answer is no, not most of the time, but behaviours are beginning to creep in around favourite programmes and broadcasters are beginning to respond. Programme genres such as game shows (take a bow, ‘Million Pound Drop’!), reality series, sports and event programming are ripe for exploitation.

Lack of customised content aside, there are other reasons why the connected TV experience has been slow to kindle. In particular, the growing 2-screening phenomenon means most viewers are already well-served by their companion screens. This leads on to the second major research launch I referred to earlier.

Thinkbox’s ‘Screen Life – The View from the Sofa’ research presentation, which I saw for the first time last week, not only explores the 2-screening phenomenon in a unique and forensic way, it also places it firmly within the wider advertising communications context. It shows just why 2-screening (and, in many cases, 3, 4 or 5-screening) has taken off and become embedded so quickly. Multi-screening supports established viewing rituals, enhances the social element of TV watching, separates the social from the personal (shared TV screen, personal companion screen) and creates instant response and deeper engagement, while also keeping

viewers through the commercial breaks. The opportunities for advertisers are truly mouth-watering.

The Thinkbox research shows that the ability to create instant and intuitive response, social interaction and deeper participation in programming can only benefit audiences and advertisers alike. The fact that multi-screeners are more likely to sit through the advertising break AND engaging with second-screening activities appears to have no impact on advertising recall levels is an added bonus for TV. It’s all good news.

But it’s about to get better. We are about to witness a quantum leap in the power of 2-screening as the content gets synchronised (after all, we all know viewers are loathe to find it for themselves). This was the role I originally predicted connected TV’s would perform, becoming the hub of the synchronised 2-screen experience, and that would be the most powerful influence they would play within the whole marketing process. It turns out even that role may get usurped.

I recently saw a presentation Shazam, showing how their audio matching facility could be used to ‘read’ the content on the TV screen and synchronise related content on the companion screens simply and intuitively. ITV’s recent exclusive deal with Shazam should throw up some interesting case studies over the coming months. I look forward to reading them.

So, the next time I am asked about the role of Smart TVs vs. 2-screening, my answer will be that the main role of Smart TVs will be to provide more and better television content, with a little bit of room for social TV and instant response channels at the margins. Multi-screening will probably handle all the rest, in the short term at least. Of course, the broadcasters and pay TV platforms – working together – have the power to change that. In the meantime, there are many other connected screens available to either enhance the TV experience or offer a distraction (and the Thinkbox research suggests they are used roughly 50/50 in this respect) and I reckon that is where the really exciting opportunities lie – for all of us – for at least the next 3-4 years.