Second Screens a First Priority

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What Is Second Screening?

Second screening is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s when a TV viewer is using a second device – for example, a tablet, phone or laptop – whilst still engaging in some way with what’s on the TV. In recent years with the proliferation of smart phones and tablet devices, second screening has almost become a social norm and skyrocketed within households. Once upon a time it was only younger generations that would partake in such behaviour, but it’s now something that a wide array of individuals are trying their hands at.

3 Types of Second Screening

Second screens can provide endless opportunities for viewers, but I like to divide them into three distinct activities that they enable:

Interacting: Second screens can allow the viewer to interact with what they’re watching on TV. A recent example of this in action was Britain’s Got Talent’s judging app which encouraged viewers to vote and discuss acts in real-time. Interactive elements mean that viewers are engaged in programming to a greater extent and the hope would be that this engagement carries through to ad breaks. A further example of interaction is using Shazam to “check in” to an advert that’s playing out live on TV in order to push more relevant content to a user’s device, or looking up a recipe online as Jamie Oliver cooks it live on TV.

Dissecting: Second screens give a viewer a means of expressing their opinions to a larger audience without it getting in the way of their core viewing experience. For example, a viewer may be watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off and want to let the world know their thoughts about the way a tartlet is being filled. They can use a second screen to tweet about it, post it to Facebook, pin an ideal looking tartlet to their Pinterest board, chat to their mates about their tartlet experiences, or take a selfie of themselves watching TGBBB. Whatever they choose to do, a second screen gives a viewer a voice.

Diverting: Second screens give a viewer the opportunity to do something completely different to what they’re watching on TV, whilst still absorbing what’s going on. For example, a viewer might see an actor that they like on TV and look up other movies that they’ve featured in, or log on to Amazon to buy a dress that they’ve just seen a girl wearing on Big Brother. In some circumstances a viewer might be watching BBC News highlights on their tablet device whilst having Wimbledon on the TV at the same time.

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NFL Media’s utilisation of a second screen has been well received by fans.

Recent Thinkbox Research

In 2012 Thinkbox presented some research that produced some interesting insights into second screening.

1 – Multi-screening viewers stayed in the room for 81% of ad breaks; viewers not multi-screening stayed in the room for 72%.

Implications: multiple screens mean that viewers find it harder to leave the action. A second screen can make viewers stick around for ad breaks, and adverts can be simulcast to viewers’ devices. All this means that for media owners like ITV, a second screen app is a win-win scenario. It doesn’t distract viewers from adverts, but instead provides more opportunities for advertisers to register an impact.

2 – In a laboratory test where participants were invited to watch TV and/or use a laptop without being made aware they were to be tested on TV ad recognition, there was no significant difference in the level of ad recognition between people when multi-screening or only watching TV.

Implications: viewers using a second screen still take in what’s being shown on their TV. This may be due to sound from their TVs providing a mental cue, or the fact that our senses can simply multi-task in these situations. This means that media planners shouldn’t be worried about how a second screen could detract from a campaign – it’s likely to only enhance one.

3 – On average, when only one person was in the room and was multi-screening, 64% of their TV viewing sessions lasted for longer than 15 minutes. This compares to 47% when watching with no accompanying activity.

Implications: second screens allow viewers to do what they want to do without leaving a room. For example, it’s rare that a viewer is engrossed in a piece of programming from start to finish. Viewers often like to find out more about what they’re watching, as they’re watching it. HBO’s Game of Thrones app as an example informs viewers about character developments and storylines in real-time as the TV show is airing.  Second screens therefore provide media owners with a more captive audience, and one with less of an excuse to leave the room.

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Britain’s Got Talent’s interactive buzzer app.

Here are some great examples of second screen experiences and what advertisers can learn:

Britain’s Got Talent

This year’s Britain’s Got Talent saw the release of an app that had a second screen element. It allowed viewers access to a wealth of behind the scenes content but importantly encouraged both interactivity and sharing through social media. Viewers were able to predict if judges were going to “buzz” auditioning contestants off the stage, and their stats were shared in real-time with other viewers across the UK. Later in the series viewers were also encouraged to vote in the live finals using the app itself, with ITV receiving revenue directly from it. Not only this, but interactive adverts were pushed directly to the viewer’s device whilst  ad breaks were airing on their TVs. It was a very clever app that seamlessly integrated into ITV’s linear TV experience.

Ant and Dec explain ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent App.


In 2013 the National Football League decided to develop its own set of second screen apps. Second screens can be great for sports, and in this instance work really well. Second screens were utilised to display stats, player bios, scores from other games, and game highlights. In a game that has a fixation on statistics and is measured to the inch, a second screen is an excellent addition to the viewing experience and is hard to be without once it’s been tried and tested. It must only be a matter of time before Sky, ITV and the BBC develop similar apps in the UK for soccer fans to enjoy alongside sports broadcasts.

Nickelodeon’s App

The popular children’s TV channel wanted to find a way for its viewers to interact with what they were seeing on their TV screens. They wanted to “go beyond a typical app that offers free video viewing and instead offer more interactive content, games, and video not seen on television” and therefore developed an experience for viewers that they could use at the same time as watching Nickelodeon on TV. Children have short attention spans, so the app was a great way to keep them fully and meaningfully engaged with the Nickelodeon brand. The app was also well-received in industry circles, winning an Emmy for User Experience and Visual Design.


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