Apps as part of the second screen experience

Apps as part of the second screen experience Image

What is the second screen experience?

The second screen experience is the phenomenon that many people seem to love to casually browse, shop, or game on mobile devices while watching TV. This became commonplace with the new set of mobile devices, including touch-screen smartphones and tablets, though it was present (but less common) with laptops.

Aside from the annoyance of people using cell phones in movie theaters, there are great opportunities for app developers and television networks alike in the second screen experience. Here are a small sampling of ideas to demonstrate the kinds of experiences and interactions the second screen provides.

Voting, live

Many of the performance competition shows (e.g., American Idol, The Voice) allow the viewing public to contribute to the progression of the show by voting through text message or online. This kind of audience participation makes the viewer feel more engaged in the show, and provides people with a feeling that they are part of the show; however, there is a fundamental problem with this model. The time between the voting and the final results is often a full week, breaking the feeling of being part of the show.

The huge opportunity for television networks is to allow for voting during a live show. This direct influence on the outcomes of a show makes for a completely new experience for people watching these TV shows. In addition, people would make more effort to watch these shows live, instead of watching the PVR version, which allows people to skip through commercials.


Interactive TV, through a coupled mobile app

At a higher level, the idea of live voting suggests the idea of a coupled TV show with a mobile app, that apps can provide an interactive experience that is directly coupled with the content on the TV show. For example, during a yoga program, the app could be used as a tutorial screen, providing direct feedback of how the local viewer is doing as compared to the instructions on screen. Think of it for a minute. The instructor says to move into downward facing dog, but the viewer is brand new to yoga and has no idea what that means. The viewer has their iPad set up next to their mat, showing what downward facing dog looks like from various angles. The iPad camera turns on, and shows an outline of a body on the screen. The viewer then moves their body around to fill in the outline, essentially guiding them into the correct posture.


Providing a social layer on top of the TV show

Recently, I’ve seen many shows showing live (presumably curated by the producers) tweets occurring during the show. This is a great first step towards engaging with your audience in real time, though I believe there is a huge opportunity for mobile apps (which are already being used while watching these shows) to provide this connection.

The explosive use of Twitter during live TV (e.g., watch for the flurry of tweets occurring during a new Grey’s Anatomy) suggests that viewers are looking for a way to engage with other viewers in real time. People have taken to the traditional social networks (such as Twitter) to provide this social layer of TV watching. This is a huge wasted opportunity for the broadcast TV networks, and even for the service providers (the Shaw, Dish, and Comcasts of the world). Not only are people using a separate service while watching your content, they are also distracted from the content, missing many of the advertising opportunities that arise during typical TV watching.

By providing a second screen experience as part of your own mobile app, you can provide your viewers with the shared social experience they are seeking, while providing you with a new platform on which to providing advertising. This could be a new advertising package to offer: commercial spots, coupled with simultaneous interactive experiences on the app. For example, amid all of the “OMGs”, “Nooo Derek!”, and “I though they would be together forever”, your viewers will be looking for distractions, so what a great place to give them the opportunity to engage with your advertiser’s brands.



The second screen experience is here to stay. A huge swath of the population has a need to always be multitasking, and I don’t see this trend slowing anytime soon. I think the traditional models of broadcast TV will be around for a good while still, but that it is currently missing the boat on how people are actually engaging with their content. Over the next years, I expect TV and mobile apps to become more coupled, providing us with new ways to engage with others and the broadcast TV content. Exciting times!

Andre Doucette Photo
Andre Doucette Photo
About the Author

Andre Doucette

Andre is the Product Director at Push with a PhD in Human Computer Interaction. Andre believes that thoughtful design can simplify people's lives, and strives to make all of Push's products easy to learn and use, while providing compelling, useful, and joyful experiences.