The companion screen: will TV learn to be social?

I’ve been traveling the past few days and did not have access to substantial enough bandwidth to make meaningful contributions to the blog.

However, I will be online for the next few days and will catch up.

One observation I had while visiting App World is how apps are affecting the future of television. The notion of single screen viewing is rapidly receding. In the UK among certain demographics, half of the viewers watch TV while interacting with a “companion” screen. This figure is significant in other markets as well.

The consequences of this dual-screen experience could be profound. More profound than what PVR technology enabled. What I would like to think about is whether the dual-screen experience enables new jobs-to-be-done for TV (e.g. “social” TV) vs. what PVR did which was make TV watching “better”.

The key question is whether solitary TV viewing is a different job from accompanied viewing.

If viewing while in the company of others is a distinctly different job from solitary viewing then a dual-screen approach will allow interaction with a companion even if they are not in the same room. This implies that the more natural interaction for TV viewers is not with the programming but with other viewers.

On the other hand, solitary viewing may be hired for a very different job. Not all programming is suitable for a social experience. Producers need to carefully categorize their production according to what jobs it’s getting hired for.

An even deeper strategic question is whether programs themselves should be designed with social interaction in mind, and if so, is TV production something that should be built in an inter-dependent way with the devices and the second screen in mind? Does there need to be a “studio system” for TV where production, talent and distribution are under one over-arching controller?

This discussion parallels that around the re-integration of the value chains where Apple participates. Perhaps the challenge for the re-invention of TV is really to what extent can any one participant in the value network orchestrate an integrated approach.

More on this topic to follow.

  • I think it's important to note that some programmes are better suited to solitary viewing or non-interactive viewing than others. In the UK, reality and talent shows like X-Factor and The Apprentice would be among those well suited to interactivity indeed they already have well established channels for social interaction via media live blogs (Guardian etc) and through the network's own websites.

    Networks will need to be careful how they implement interactivity and social features on programmes o programming that doesn't fit this mould though. Documentaries drama, film and content with story-lines or that require concentration could be devalued if the distraction of social interaction is thrust onto it without careful consideration for the audience.

  • Have been exchanging SMS with friends while watching football matches for >10 yrs. Last world cup saw Twitter become the medium for that.

  • Jamie has a good point, I think that you need to be careful that your content is created with the medium and interaction in mind, rather than shoe-horned on later.

    Broadcasters in the UK are trying to do new things like YouView (which has the backing of all the terrestrial channels in the UK), but having looked carefully into the SDK I would say that the product will fail for the same reason Steve Jobs said Google TV will – 'Noone wants to buy a new box'.

    With the above comment in mind, the best model I can envision so far is an AirPlay enabled TV model. Here is an X Factor scenario that could easily happen within a year (I am basing my assumption on Job's comments and the iOS SDK clues and using the new Apple TV):

    I am alerted by Push Notification that the live show of 2011 X-Factor is coming on. I tap 'View' and the XFactor App launches opens to tonights Live Episode. I hit the stream live button and press AirPlay to send it to the TV. At that point the remote is now my iPhone or iPad, sure I can use the volume controls, but I could also be presented with associated stats and a context sensitive button or two. When the first contestant comes on, the interface can light up or alert me that voting is now available for an in-app purchase of 0.59p. If I spend £1.79 I get 5 votes. Each contenstant can be represented as a thumbnail a live vote indicators so that you can see which contestants are recieving more of the voting at a particular point in time. And that's just scratching the surface, imagine not needing picture in picture, if I want to see the contestant first audition it's a tap away on my own phone. Maybe the total votes for your Game Center friends are recorded too. And so on, it's almost too easy to come up with stuff 🙂

    When the companion device is the custom remote for the experience but it's also your own internet connected device the possibilities become much richer. We need to throw out the old idea of a TV with programs and new internet connected gizmo that sits on the tabletop and replace it with the idea of a dumb monitor waiting to display whatever content is thrown at it by viewer from their personal computing device, be it a game and TV show a social chat or a video conversation.

  • newtonrj

    As Horace points out that TV programs can be hired using complementary devices like PDAs/phones/xPads, they can also be fired. If content production is un-wise and installs excessive commercials/ad space in-app, users may be pinched to find alternatives as @_ChrisHarris cites above.

    Secondary, user preference is becoming diversified. Some people will be happy with sole-platform viewing, others multi-platform viewing, while some will be multi-task viewing with web, multi-channel, posting, and controlling from several interconnected devices simultaneously.

    Soon, eyeball retention will require consideration of the ancillary devices, requirements & attention throughout the length of a program. -RJ

  • r00tabega

    The big push over "social" and "NOW" media is because past-catalogue and episodal media is being commoditized by the likes of NetFlix and Hulu, meaning the profits are where people are watching real-time.

    Personally, I prefer past-catalogue (either DVR or Netflix on-demand), but the occasional reality TV or sports is fun.

  • unhinged

    The really interesting part will be when advertisers are no longer willing to pay for the content to be shown on the TV. I think we're not far away from that now – the large part of companion device use for myself and the people I know is during the ad breaks. Sure, people have been channel surfing for years, but they were still keeping their attention on the TV. What happens when the controller device is the focus of viewer attention? Hello, iAds!

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  • I don't think TV itself needs to get social, I think the social internet watercooler will continue to exist in parallel via Facebook and Twitter