* "Second screen" coming into its own, developers ramp up
* Content producers, TV manufacturers touted concept at CES
* Rapid shift in viewing habits the catalyst
By Poornima Gupta
LAS VEGAS, Jan 10 Television makers, networks
and movie studios are embracing the tablet and developing
original content and software to drive audience interaction and
new advertising revenue after initially dismissing mobile
devices as a distraction.
At the heart of this volte-face is a growing recognition of
how TV viewing, which has stayed much the same over the past
decade, is evolving amid the growth of hand-held devices like
the tablet. More and more, viewers are fiddling with tablets or
smartphones while watching television or tuning out during
The trend is prompting developers, manufacturers and
broadcasters to create tablet applications to hold viewers'
attention, network executives and developers say.
"When the iPad came out, we decided to give it a shot," said
Lisa Hsia, executive vice president of the Bravo Digital
Network, one of the first networks to devise a second-screen app
it called Bravo Now. "For almost a year, no one came out with an
app. Now, it's a cost of entry for any TV network.
"It's not only the fans who crave it, it's also another
potential form of revenue as interactivity brings in a whole new
engagement and revenue."
About 40 percent of Americans use tablets or smartphones
while watching TV at least once a day. Twice as many do so at
least once a month, according to a Nielsen report.
Pew Research showed that 11 percent of viewers who followed
the first live telecast debate between Mitt Romney and President
Barack Obama simultaneously followed coverage of the event on
computers or mobile devices.
Enter so-called "second screen" apps, software applications
on tablets or phones that synchronize onscreen action with
supplementary information such as behind-the-scenes footage,
costume design information, location details and games.
They feed viewers information such as cast and crew
comments. They also invite viewer input, such as voting for
favorite scenes or characters.
Fans of "The Walking Dead", one of the highest rated shows
on cable, can take snap polls on their tablets during new
episodes, vote on everything from their favorite actor to best
zombie kill, and watch exclusive footage on a tablet or
smartphone while the program unfolds onscreen.
Bravo's "Last Chance Kitchen", a Web-only program introduced
during the ninth season of "Top Chef" last year, had eight
million video views, the most of any network.
On the hardware end, major manufacturers are gearing up to
introduce second-screen features in a big way. At the Consumer
Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, the world's largest TV
manufacturers touted interactivity with mobile devices.
Sharp showed off a "SmartCentral" app for its line
of Aquos TVs that allows a tablet to function as a remote while
also allowing Web browsing. Users can also browse and select
movies from their tablets, and transfer photos and videos to
Panasonic demonstrated how viewers can share
content from TVs with their Google Inc Android devices.
And Samsung Electronics Ltd Co said a major effort
in 2013 would be to combine mobile phones with TVs.
ENGAGEMENT AND REVENUE
Even cable provider Dish Network entered the fray
by announcing at CES that it will offer subscribers an iPad app
that includes not just its traditional programming grid, but
also remote control capabilities and social search features.
"For us it's a way to get consumers engaged in movies,"
David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment,
said. "Some may say this is a distraction but it could drive you
to see films that you may otherwise not watch."
"It becomes part of the whole movie-watching experience."
While Sony uses a third party to develop the apps, it has an
internal group that is focused just on the digital product.
Ron Gelick, senior vice president of CBS Interactive, said
the network is looking to step up the digital experience every
year, and producers are now encouraged to think about digital
content right from the drawing board.
The network's effort at making last year's Grammy awards
more "social" - via an app that streamed exclusive performance
and interview videos with a wide variety of artists, along with
the ability to directly link to social sites - resulted in 13
million mentions on social networks and feeds, he said.
The Grammy app was a once-off, but the network released an
Apple Inc iPad app last week called "CBS Connect" that
pools content from multiple shows.
"It helps build passion for the show," he told reporters.
Bravos's Hsia said it was difficult to find developers when
the network wanted to build an app in 2010. Now, there's a host
of developers who specialize in developing streaming content and
other mobile apps specifically for television, she said.
One of the early pioneers of companion apps was Shazam,
which started out as an easy way to identify music but now can
be used also to access trivia on TV programs, celebrity gossip
on and tweets from the stars onscreen and - naturally - music
featured on the broadcast.
Televisions are also beginning to sport more powerful
processors, smoothening interaction with devices, said Chris
Jantz-Sell, vice president of product at Flingo.
The San Francisco startup recently announced its "Samba"
platform, which synchronizes with live TV and, as the viewer
flips channels, recommends related videos or TV programs.
Zeebox - which pools content from broadcasters - said its TV
app had been downloaded one million times over the past three
months. The app, introduced in the United States last September,
has about half a million unique users per month on average.
"The interest is huge," said Guy Finley, executive director
of the Media and Entertainment Services Alliance, which
organized a conference on second screens at CES.
"I originally planed on one room and about 200 people. It
quickly went to two rooms with 200 people each."