George Wright June 11, 2012
How many screens in your lounge room? Photo: Louise Kennerley
Digital media companies expect new product development projects to consider a "three screens" strategy.
The three screens being mobile devices (smartphone and tablet), desktop computers and television. The idea being that our attention is regularly focused on one of these screens through much of the day. Each screen may have different image resolution, capability and purpose so we cannot simply design experiences to be the same on the all screens.
We consume media in a more and more fragmented way than ever but the opportunity to be on all devices is a holy grail for media and marketing types.
The second screen has been an area of great interest because it represents a disruption to the two other screens. The desktop computer is disrupted because more and more people are bringing their own devices to work and so it is more common to have an internet-connected tablet or smartphone next to a desktop vying for attention. Likewise, in the lounge room while the "big screen" is on, we often have our mobile or tablet in our laps.
This behaviour isn't really very new. Often when watching television people used to have a newspaper or magazine nearby. It was not uncommon in our house to be watching the cricket on TV but listening to the commentary on radio.
Only the other day I heard a US-based editor mention that modern TV is not written so that 100 per cent of attention needs to be given to it to understand the message. This is one of the reasons why reality TV often has so many re-caps, not only it is a cheap filler but also because people are often tweeting or posting on Facebook along with the show and may have missed key comments.
What was once a bridging mechanism for people coming into a show late or switching between shows in ad breaks, in this age of personal video recorders and time-shifting, repetition has become a second chance to see what happened while the audience were looking down at their phones.
We are treating television more like radio and the second screen more like television as that is where the engagement is occurring.
What makes the the digital second screen so interesting is that it can have all this additional context by being plugged into social networks and by utilising audio watermarks embedded in the programs.
Fan culture has long used the internet as a platform to celebrate and promote their interests. Now these message boards, wikis and content rich discussions can be inserted into the "lean back" experience of just watching and enabling new levels of participation in their favourite sport, cult television show or political panel discussions.
The battle for the second screen has only just begun. Hardware manufacturers that make the smartphones and tablets are providing the digital real estate for television networks, production companies and social networks to try to create compelling companion apps to keep our attention on their show or brand. This attention can then be monetised through advertising, cross promotion and merchandising.
In the last two years, there have been many studies showing the second screen is growing in attention-holding power. Statistics for this Fairfax-owned site corroborates the fact tablet and smartphone usage does not diminish greatly during television "prime time". It isn't simply a case of substitution but of creating companion experiences.
To date, Apple has been the clear leader in the second screen space - a lead that will be very challenging to assail. I do not expect Apple to slow down its formidable lounge room play.
This week Microsoft formally announced Xbox SmartGlass to try to tie together the different lounge room elements through the Xbox platform. Nintendo Wii U is a game controller which could be easily made to be a media companion screen too. Sony has a large footprint in the lounge room already with the PlayStation and PSVita could likewise find itself called upon to be a second screen.
Microsoft has successfully positioned the XBox as being more than a game console and the recent announcement is shifting the battle away from games and towards a total entertainment environment. The next generation of consoles will be about being the hub from which the various screens will draw their contexts.
SmartTVs are trying to keep the television from being relegated to just being a big dumb screen that other devices control and the audience has on in the background. Only time will tell how successful this strategy will be.
The list of competitors is growing and fragmentation is guaranteed because the hardware is only a part of the equation, the content makers are eyeing the space as well. It will be interesting to see the television networks creating apps (such as Fango) and production company produced apps (such as HBO) as well as social network driven instances interact and compete for audience.
So the question for content providers is how can we successfully navigate this multi-format quagmire? The attention economy is evolving and new rules and techniques to reach and maintain an audience will need to be discovered.
The battle for the lounge room is a hotbed of interesting innovations and old ideas made new. How many more power points will you need in your lounge room this time next year?
This author is on Google+