Real Insights Blog

Can the “second screen” rescue broadcast?

Tom McDonnell, co-founder of UK digital production shop Monterosa, says it doesn’t have to be a question of digital vs broadcast. They’re actually supposed to work together. In Britain, iPlayer, Sky+ ...
May 13, 2009

Tom McDonnell, co-founder of UK digital production shop Monterosa, says it doesn’t have to be a question of digital vs broadcast. They’re actually supposed to work together.

In Britain, iPlayer, Sky+ and Spotify have all gone mainstream, and in the US, Hulu’s revenues are putting pressure on YouTube owners Google. As the quality and convenience of these services increases it can be hard to see a future for broadcasting. There are many different projections about the speed of video-on-demand take-up and the growth of personal video recorders, but it is clear where we’re headed.

However, watching or listening to something at the same time as everyone else in the country or in your interest group is still compelling. For many in the UK, 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night is time to wince at The Apprentice, Saturday is a time for Talk Sport, and 10 p.m. is a chance to watch the news. Broadcast definitely has a future, but does that future include programming that isn’t time-relevant?

Along with a growing crowd, I only watch factual shows like Panorama online, and usually when someone tells me about it – probably a friend who watched it on TV. But when that friend becomes an iPlayer addict like me, how will I find out about it? iPlayer has a limited amount of space on its front page, so my potential exposure is reduced.

This effect has the potential to spiral to a stage where some of the best programming finds it very difficult to find an audience.

There is hope. Personalisation and social recommendation both have critical roles to play, but I see the most exciting opportunity within the rise of concurrent ‘second screen’ behaviour. According to the IAB’s ’08 Thinkbox report TV & Online: Better Together, almost half of digital households watch TV and go online at the same time on a daily basis.

Ironically, as more people consume media on-demand, the same people are using live realtime communication more than ever. Facebook has brought instant messaging to people who didn’t know what it was, smart phones enable people to use email as IM, and Twitter has brought realtime ‘broadcast’ messaging to the masses. The appetite for gaming, from consoles to iPhones and casual online, is bigger than ever before.

By combining people’s growing love for realtime social communication, gaming and concurrent couch-activity, the broadcast industry has a vast opportunity. The era of DVD-extra style television websites has passed and broadcasters need to shift focus. This isn’t just a chance to keep people watching or listening, it creates a new revenue stream in targeted, synchronised advertising. If’s latest offer appears on both screens, it means one less click before that hotel booking. Fewer clicks equal higher conversions.

Realtime social engagement can be built into all genres from factual and drama to films. At Monterosa I’ve been involved in several projects around the ‘second screen’. The most recent of these is The Apprentice Predictor. It allows people to play along with the show every Wednesday night in realtime, guessing who they think will get fired whilst watching live graphs above each candidate. The longer you hold onto the candidate, the more points you win at the end if you get it right. It’s reasonably simple to play and only scratches the surface of what’s possible. Re-playing after the show, playing with friends using Facebook Connect and adding an ongoing competition are the obvious next-steps.

MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have all taught us how quickly online behaviour can change. In broadcasting, a tipping point is approaching, and 2009 presents a huge but fleeting opportunity to add an exciting new dimension to the medium. The question is, will the commercial broadcasters who need this the most have the wherewithal to respond before it’s too late?

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.