Coined as a phrase to describe smartphones and tablet devices, “second screens” are being used by more and more people to complement their usual television habits. This ranges from having your say about the contestants on any given reality show (The Guardian runs a “liveblog” of several) to being part of global, historic televised events such as the Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies. TV as a medium is becoming less passive; as developments in technology allow more interaction, audiences want to be immersed, to engage directly with the material.
One social network with active plans to corner the market in the second screen experience is Zeebox, an app which aims to provide second screen users with a centralised, niche platform on which to engage with fellow viewers of their favourite shows. Originally conceived as a channel guide, the app evolved to encompass audience engagement, with individual pages dedicated to specific TV shows offering up network-generated content as well as the opportunity to connect with other fans. Zeebox has gained significant popularity in the UK (with approximately 1.5million users) and has just launched in the US.
One example of Zeebox’s specialised nature is its analysis of real-time broadcasts and ability to pop up with timed prompts. For example, following a key scene in a soap opera, the app might ask; “Should A have kissed B? Vote for a chance to win an iTunes gift card!” At the moment, Zeebox seem to have no fears that Facebook or Twitter will take a cue from its unique model, and appears happy to coexist with the other social networks – it features integrated logins, enabling anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account to log in.
Until now, Twitter has been the go-to place for up to the minute commentary on television programmes – Saturday and Sunday evenings on Twitter in the UK are currently dominated by 140 character remarks on popular shows like Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and The X Factor. Fans get to form their own Greek chorus online, delivering asides that range from the amusing to the brutal. Comedian and writer Caitlin Moran has championed “livetweeting”, describing the back and forth comments between tweeters as being sometimes more entertaining than the television show itself.
User-generated content has become more and more integrated into live television feeds, with audience reactions screened amid post-match analysis during sporting events or over the closing credits of serial dramas. News shows are now able to display part of the spectrum of public opinion during live broadcasts. By including a hashtag or mentioning a show’s official Twitter handle, you can be more fully involved in the show. Many shows are now also encouraging viewers to tweet their answers in competitions, an inexpensive and instantaneous alternative to historic phone in lines.
Executives aren’t just encouraging interaction via social media, though. With television studios investing heavily in bespoke app development and creating immersive games to tie-in with their shows, it is clear that second screens have not simply changed the way we watch television – they have had an impact on the industry as a whole.