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Cracking the Second Screen

October 17, 2013

Ten years ago, I was working on Windows Media Center at Microsoft. Back then Media Center was a new paradigm and part of Microsoft’s two pronged strategy to gain a foothold in the living room (Xbox, being the other). At the time we were touting the awesome power of the PC to bring together all of your digital media in one place. Nowadays, that role has largely been supplanted by the internet where all of your media can be made available to many types of devices.

But I don’t think we had it wrong. Not that part at least. The new paradigm we were really trying to address with the Media Center was accessing this content via remote control, the “10 foot experience” as opposed to the laptop or desktop computer “2 foot experience.” Even back then we recognized that Media Center PC’s were an interim step; a powerful device that could store and serve your local digital content with the touch of a button. Ten years ago, that’s where the content was. Now much of that once local media (your music collection, photos, etc.) is being stored on the web.

Demonstrating Windows Media Center 2004, Hollywood, CA
Demonstrating Windows Media Center 2004, Hollywood, CA

What we didn’t foresee at the time was the rise of the second screen. We assumed that the TV itself would become more interactive and that this interaction would take place on the big screen alongside the broadcast. While some of this is happening today (notably with Xbox) the real action nowadays is on mobile devices. Viewers are using smartphones and tablets to supplement their TV experiences. A 2012 Nielsen study found 45% of tablet owners in the US use their devices in front of a TV on a daily basis. Other studies have even higher percentages for these interactive users, known as “second screeners.” While some of these folks are merely multitasking to squeeze some extra productivity into their day (writing blog posts with the TV on – oops! ;-) the leap to true TV interactivity is a logical and easy one. Share a comment on Facebook about the football game, read a friend’s or celebrity’s Tweet about that singing competition, or look up an actor’s name, and you are a fully engaged and interactive second screener. Welcome to the club!

The second screen is just what is sounds like, an additional screen for consuming or interacting with media/content. While watching something on one device (typically a television set), information and content is displayed on an independent companion device such as a tablet, smartphone or laptop. The idea is that related content is being displayed that further enhances the primary screen experience.

There’s a big push right now to crack the second screen opportunity. But nobody is getting it right, yet. Facebook and Twitter are the two obvious options for people, but the networks, studios and programmers are also jumping into the fray. All of this adds up to a disjointed experience for the second screener. What is needed is a consistent, flowing experience that keeps users engaged whether it’s a sporting event, TV show or movie. An intermediary service if you will, a third party (mobile) app that aggregates all of the second screen experiences.

I am doing some marcomm consulting for a company planning to provide just such a service. Snackdish is an online platform that lets friends connect over movies and TV shows in a user-defined virtual third place. The name “Snackdish” comes from the dish of snacks that your mom might put out on the coffee table for friends to share while watching the big game or, in my house when I was a kid, the Disney Sunday Movie. In a busy, grownup world, that snack dish has become virtualized and metaphorically accessible via our second screens.

Full disclosure: my role at Snackdish involves helping them tell their story, so you might expect that I’m not an impartial judge about their potential or strategy for cracking the secret of the second screen. But I can tell you that they are starting out in the right way. Snackdish is taking their cues from second screeners and building their product around the types of things that these viewers are doing today, albeit with mismatched tools. Snackdish is building their service around this new paradigm, rather than trying to make the paradigm adjust to their existing platform (ala Twitter and Facebook) or force-feed the show/product that they are trying to promote (ala programmers and advertisers).

Join me in wishing the Snackdish crew the best of luck. And for the next month you can join me in supporting their Indeigogo fundraising campaign. Rest assured that all of the money raised from this campaign will go towards the fast and lean development of their service and website, none towards my exorbitant consulting fees!

Snackdish on Facebook
The Snackdish page on Facebook
One Comment
  1. Karin permalink

    Great article, Tom! Not only informative but also, got me curious about Snackdish.

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