Sep 2

The New Rules and Realities of a Multi-Screen and Multi-Focus World

Note: This article first appeared in the MESA Media and Entertainment Strategies Journal, Fall 2015 Edition.

ABSTRACT: When are two screens not two screens? While not meant to be a trick question, the answer may surprise many: When they’re all part of one TV viewing experience. Television executives are embracing the notion that the application of multiple screens can truly create one enhanced TV-viewing experience. Rapidly disappearing is the horrific myth that the target millennial audience is too distracted by social media and otherwise disengaged from what’s happening on that big TV screen in front of them.

The reality is that a growing number of savvy programmers, producers and sponsors are no longer having any concerns about multiple screen competition. Instead, an increasing number of companies recognize that the experience Web-enabled mobile devices create are “second” to nothing. Anyone looking to engage audiences, and keep them tuned in longer, can offer a two-way bridge between the program show and the viewers—one where the audience interacts with and, often influences, what’s on the air.

At iPowow, we believe that the fundamental principles of firmly engaging viewers in a multi-screen, multi-focus TV world can be applied to nearly any TV program.

So while earlier ideas about the so-called “second screen” experience had viewers posting comments to social media sites or searching for information related to the show on various websites, we quickly came to realize that the real opportunity was in taking the audience inside the show, giving them a chance to participate actively in what they’re watching. The closer you can bring viewers ‘into’ what’s on their screen, the closer you are to making television viewing a truly participatory activity. This creates a consistently greater affinity with what they’re watching and, consequently, they watch a program longer.

But first, you need to have a two way mechanism and process in place that connects the show and the viewer with one another. Consider the following genre approaches:

Live Sports: Did the refs make the right call? Was the runner safe at home? Who will win the Stanley Cup/World Series/NBA Championship/Super Bowl? Sports fans are passionate about all of this, and are eager to be heard, which they can do by pushing just one button on our app. And since we’re talking about competitions here, it makes sense to add a gamification element; trivia challenges, knowledge quizzes or games testing predicting power can all feature prizes and recognition. People are thrilled to see their names onscreen on a leaderboard and this is a perfect opportunity to engage sponsors too.

Competition Reality Shows: Viewers can do more than throw shoes at their TV when the judges make the wrong call; they can let the judges know exactly how they feel. This participation lets them play games, enter contests, possibly win prizes, and enjoy exclusive and original content, underwritten by sponsors. It’s true engagement for them.

Morning News and Talk: These programs are full of consumer information, celebrity appearances and topical conversation. All are ripe for immediate, spontaneous feedback from the audience. Just by clicking on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on their mobile device, they can weigh in on the subjects being discussed, and become part of the program. Engaged viewers are loyal viewers.

Live News: Public officials, news directors, involved citizens all are curious about what people who watch the news really think. To answer that question, we’ve had instant polls embedded in local newscasts that drive viewer participation around newscast topics seamlessly. A quick “yes” or “no” answer from thousands effectively informs the broadcast and can even influence public policy.

Scripted Dramas and Comedies: Viewers can play games built around the program, participate in polls and quizzes and in other ways more fully engage with what they’re watching. People have strong opinions about characters, story arcs and plot twists, and when given an option to weigh in on them, they will express their opinions enthusiastically and ideally during commercial breaks. On-air advertisers can sponsor the content on the mobile device as well, so they get more than their money’s worth. This even works for reruns and classic shows, since the element of active engagement and participation can make even old programs feel fresh.

We’re not talking here about what some call “social TV,” which typically means having viewers write social media posts about something they’ve just seen. That kind of interaction involves conversations around the programming, conversations that take viewers away from the show, and once they’re gone, they almost never come back. What we refer to as Participation TV instead brings the viewer into the show, where with just a few clicks their voice can be heard, their opinions can be registered, their focus on the show can be preserved.

Participation in storytelling

This effort to encourage engagement is important because viewers really care about where the story is going on their favorite shows. They want to go on a journey with those programs. Whether they’re watching “Sports Center,” “Project Runway” or “Good Morning America”; they want to be a part of that narrative. Engaging viewers in these types of stories is not only possible, but successful.

The engagement platform should be looked at as a storytelling tool; segments are like a short story, with a beginning, middle and end, and the jeopardy is that nobody knows what the viewers are going to decide next. At a live event, even the producers in the booth don’t know what the audience will say, any more than they know who will win the game/race/contest. Those fundamental storytelling techniques work, because if you make viewers feel they’re impacting the show, they’ll remain engaged.

Face it, the audience has spoken, and what they’re saying is that, in ways not even conceived just a decade ago, they want to be part of the programming they’re watching. Viewers now are ready to lean in and be engaged. How many shows does it take to meet that desire? The answer is as many as can make TV a truly engaging, participatory experience. And that’s no joke.