CES: Second-Screen Apps Central to Multiplatform Efforts

'We View Them as Part of Show,': Shine America's David Anderson

Executives from a number of major programmers and studios stressed the growing importance of second-screen applications and experiences for their multiplatform strategies during various Digital Hollywood sessions at CES.

"I would say the biggest shift in the last two years is that the [second-screen] experience used to be layered on to the program as an aftereffect," said David Anderson, senior vice president and head of digital at Shine America. "But now when we go into a network pitching a show, we go in there with components that might be a creative fit...We view them as part of show."

Renee Plato, senior vice president of digital distribution at Univision, agreed, noting that they have to offer a "360 degree experience."

"There are some viewers who want a laidback experience and then there are others who want to be very interactive," she said. "They're using Facebook and tweeting while watching. But I don't think you can do just one or the other....The overall experience needs to be a 360 degree experience that plugs into consumer behavior."

"We are working hard to provide a connected experience," added Balaji Gopinath, VP of emerging technology at Turner Broadcasting, during a separate Digital Hollywood panel. "We are spending a lot of time thinking about how we can monetize this. How can we get consumers engaged and how does content need to change across platforms?"

These efforts have even moved into the DVD and Blu-ray world. Jim Underwood, executive VP of worldwide digital and commercial strategy at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said that they had released some Blu-rays with second-screen experiences for the tablet.

But the applications work better with some types of content than others and require different approaches depending on the show, said John Penney, executive VP of strategy and business development, Starz Entertainment.

Funding the development of those applications is still difficult, Plato and others noted.

"The big challenge for us is how do we pay for it?" said Beth Clearfield, senior VP of digital and media and business development at BBC Worldwide.

Finding a way to fund those second-screen applications is particularly important, she said, because they provide a great way to engage viewers while the show is on the air and are also important for building and maintaining interest when the show is off air.

"We work with advertisers...but we don't always know when or how we can make money," she added. 

The growing importance of these applications makes it essential to overcome the business problem, Anderson said, adding that they expected "the network and advertising sponsors" to be involved.

"It is not question of who will pay for it. It is something we have to do because it is so necessary to attract audiences," he said.

Pam Schechter, VP of business affairs, digital cable entertainment at NBCUniversal, said that they would increasingly be working with Zeebox, a social TV company that provides additional content and ads synchronized with programs users are watching. Last year, NBCU and Comcast were among several companies that took a stake in Zeebox.

"We are interested in creating second-screen content by working with the creators and planning" right from the beginning, she said. "Synchronization will be a big play for NBCU."

Early on, a number of companies had developed second-screen apps for individual shows, but a number of executives said that they expected those efforts to be increasingly done on a network level.

Univision's Plato said that they are now offering synchronized content "not on a show-by-show basis but for the whole network," as part of their UVideos platform. "It is really part of our DNA now."

"I don't think that individual shows have the ability to carry second-screen [efforts]," Shine America's Anderson said. "The numbers just aren't there. I think you will see a more robust network approach developing this year."

Anderson and others also stressed that the applications had to be compelling. "You can't just throw up some trivia and some biographical information and expect viewers to find that compelling," he said.

The Univision UVideos platform was designed for authenticated TV Everywhere delivery of content.

Other executives said that these applications are increasingly being built into the cable, satellite and telco multichannel infrastructure.

During CES AT&T, Dish and Cox all announced new second-screen applications.

Sachin Sathaye, senior marketing manager, service provider video at Cisco, said that they were working with Cox and other operators on improved second screen applications that make it easier to search, access and interact with content. "Creating experiences that are intuitive, synchronized and social" are increasingly important to the TV everywhere strategies of operators, he said.

Robert Leighton, senior VP of programming, at Liberty Global Inc., said that these TV Everywhere efforts were extremely important for operators as a subscriber retention tool. But the company was surprised to find that about 90% of the usage was for live TV, not on-demand content, he noted.

He also stressed that operators have to be careful about bringing in over-the-top content. "It is a tricky balance," he noted, adding later that "the last thing we want to do is be in the position of just selling bandwidth."

These second-screen applications would also become more important at mobile data traffic grows. Cisco, for example, projects that by 2016, 71% of the global mobile data traffic will be video and that this traffic will explode as tablets become more prevalent. "By 2016, tablets will generate two times the data that global handsets do," Sathaye said.