Beyond the box
Anna Jackson explores the world of social or second screen television and looks at a new app for local TV series The Almighty Johnsons.
"TV lives on! We’re time-shifting, watching On Demand, buying DVD box sets or downloading and streaming (legitimately or otherwise)."
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In March this year Nielsen, the company that measures television viewing announced an important new demographic, the Zero TV household. According to Nielson, approximately 5% of American households have abandoned their television sets, using computers, smartphones and tablets to consume TV and video content rather than watching ‘traditional TV’.
The only surprising thing to me about this announcement was that the figure cited for Zero TV households was so low. When I talk to people about their television viewing habits a lot of people tell me they no longer watch TV... at least in the traditional sense. In truth, I think we’re watching a lot of TV, but the way that we’re watching is changing. Who hasn’t uttered the words ‘just one more episode’ and found themselves consuming an entire season of their favourite TV show in one uncontrollable binge? TV lives on! We’re time-shifting, watching On Demand, buying DVD box sets or downloading and streaming (legitimately or otherwise). Devices like smartphones and tablets aren’t necessarily replacing traditional TV viewing practices; in many cases they’re enhancing or expanding the TV viewing experience.
Social TV, second screen viewing or multiscreening are terms that describe the ways that the television experience increasingly spans multiple platforms, encouraging greater viewer participation and engagement. Have a look at Twitter activity around shows like X Factor, Shortland Street or Native Affairs in and you’ll see how much user activity there is here in New Zealand during and between broadcasts as fans chat about what’s happening. This is good news for broadcasters; recent research from Nielsen has also shown that Twitter activity drives viewers to tune in to a show in real time, increasing ratings.
TV is, and always has been not just a medium of distraction, but a distracted medium. It sits in the background amidst the chaos and banality of domestic life, interrupted by household conversations and punctuated by ad breaks. It’s not unusual to be doing many other things while watching TV, so arguably the addition of another screen in fact draws the audience in closer to the TV experience, rather than pushing them away.
This increased engagement is becoming very important to those who are in the business of television. It’s now very easy for viewers to filter out traditional TV advertising, so Social TV offers valuable alternative commercial models for broadcasters and content providers (as this article from The Guardian explains).
Second screen TV apps
Second screen apps are being widely adopted by broadcasters internationally as the TV viewing increasingly becomes a multiscreen experience. According to Angela Clark, the director of the ABC’s Innovation Division in Australia:
“At the ABC, second-screen engagement continues to rise. Users of our ABC app have doubled in just four months and iview's traffic growth is breathtaking. So there must be a lot of other people like me out there. As I see it, 70 per cent of us aren't ''browsing mobile devices while watching TV''. The very phrase is out of touch with what's happening. We are simply living our lives in a world no longer bound by the constraints on content and information our parents faced.”
In New Zealand TVNZ has an OnDemand app and TV3 has a news app, but social interaction is not yet a major feature.
The Almighty Johnsons app
Locally, South Pacific Pictures’ much loved TV show The Almighty Johnsons has just announced a new iPad app developed by a UK-based New Zealand company BeyondTheStory that will support the series as it screens internationally. The app goes live in regional rollouts that will coincide with TV transmissions here in New Zealand, in Canada on the SPACE channel, and in the UK on SYFY. Further rollouts are scheduled for Australia and the US later in the year. (New Zealand viewers can check out the app at the Apple store).
According to BeyondTheStory® CEO Jen Porter, “With this app we’ve taken our work into new dimensions by novelising each show and creating all the supporting content, with images, audio, behind-the-scenes video, 3D content, and real-time updates. We even have a Kiwi lingo guide for those who want to get the Antipodean accent on form.”
I'm a big fan of The Almighty Johnsons and just a couple of weeks ago I was on Twitter as I watched the show commenting on how much potential it has for transmedia storytelling. I admit that several times (during ad breaks) I’ve found myself Googling for more info on the Norse gods The Almighty Johnsons characters are based on, so I can see the appeal of the app. Now if only I had an iPad...
More info on Social TV and Second Screen Viewing:
- Lost Remote (social TV news)
- BeyondTheStory (Creators of The Almighty Johnsons app)
- The Almighty Johnsons app on iTunes
- How multiscreening is empowering a digital generation by Angela Clark
- The Follow-Back: Understanding the Two-Way Causal Influence Between Twitter Activity and TV Viewership (Nielsen)
- Where's the money in social TV and second screening? (The Guardian)