English: iPad 1 next to iPad 2

English: iPad 1 next to iPad 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second screen is becoming increasingly vital to the entertainment industry.

Between smartphones and tablets, mobile devices are close to being the norm in households across the U.S. — and almost half of those who own them say they use the device at the same time that they watch the big screen.

Broadcasters are beginning to realize that they must channel as much creativity into the supplemental content that they offer in support of a show as they do the main production, in order to feed the demand of those who whip out a mobile device whenever they watch. The bigger concern now for creative teams is not whether they should adapt productions for those who second screen, but what
they want to see and how it can be integrated into the scheduled broadcast.

Watching the Watchers

Nielsen, which itself recently embraced the second screen still further by rolling out Twitter ratings in October, released survey data earlier this year that  offers a glimpse into how viewers are using the second screen to enhance their experience. Although more than two thirds of those surveyed during the first quarter of 2013 were engaged in general web searches and browsing, still half of those same people said that they also visited social networks and, in some cases, became involved in discussions about the show they were watching.

Tablet owners were more likely to engage in social networking directly related to what they were watching, offering creators a warning against lumping all mobile users into the same bracket. Different devices bring different capabilities, meaning that device and operating system data could become a crucial guide point for creative teams as the second screen trend matures.

Deeper still, it will be vital for broadcasters to understand where their fans like to engage online. The viewers are currently driving the location and show content will likely flow to those outposts, but the longer term goal must be for producers to close the loop and bring fans back to online hubs that they control. Bonus content, show information, future sneak-peeks, games, discussions pulled in from social feeds like Facebook and Twitter… all will become important elements to weave into a web presence that becomes a one-stop shop for those using their second screen to enhance the viewing experience.

Shows with a voting element, such as Dancing With the Stars and The Voice have known this for some time, integrating those watching by allowing them to vote online and via social networks, while MTV adopted hot social network Instagram earlier this year to gather votes for a category at its movie awards.

Losing Control

Broadcasters have inevitably lost control, both of when people watch and how they consume what they’re watching. Although the time to get in front of the second screen trend has passed, the opportunity to catch up and ride its wave is still very real. This is the perfect time to start experimenting in order to understand the transition that fans are making. Context will be key, as programmers understand how genres and specific shows fit into these adaptive viewing habits.

The most successful shows will be the ones that accept this loss of control and follow the flow of the viewer. They will start to ask where a particular target audience gathers online and what they want to see as they take a tablet break? Is it different when they move to mobile? Will fans generate a majority of the content, with the creators simply providing the forum, or will it require increased output of additional content from the show’s creative team?

All of these and more questions will surface as savvy broadcasters attempt to follow the lead of their audience. And as a viewer, there has never been a better time to tune in.

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