Second screen: from engagement to insight

netflix arrested developmentIt is pretty clear to all of us involved in this fascinating industry that broadcasting is evolving at a dramatic rate. Technology is playing a more significant role than ever in driving change, with both broadcasters and viewers adopting new innovations and learning new habits. It’s transforming how we engage with our favourite shows and in several cases, fuelling the creation of completely new formats.

Yet, while advances have certainly been made in measuring viewer engagement, essentially the methods haven’t changed significantly in decades.  Firms such as Nielsen continue to take data from small boxes placed in the living rooms of a selection of volunteer families, monitoring the channels being watched in the household at any given time and feeding back the data to broadcasters and advertisers to give them viewer ratings.

While this system worked perfectly well even until as recently as five years ago, our viewing habits have changed considerably over the past couple of years. New ways to watch TV programmes such as iPlayer, 4od, Hulu, Netflix (pictured) and Sky Go or even recording systems such as Sky+ or Virgin Media mean we’re watching TV outside the original broadcast slots, and most likely on other devices from the household’s main TV screen. In fact, according to You Gov, 26% of Britons now claim to spend more time watching TV through on-demand TV services than they do watching traditional broadcast TV.

The existing ratings systems outlined above don’t take into account the growing shift towards on-demand TV or people watching programmes on anything other than the main screen. As a result, viewing figures being presented back to broadcasters and advertisers are decreasing in accuracy, with numbers suggested often lower than the true audience share. To this end, a number of our most popular TV programmes technically have low official rankings; even though they have been extremely popular via on-demand.

This matters, because in some extreme cases, TV shows have been cancelled after just one season – even though they have actually proven extremely popular with an online audience. It is clear that solely relying on this data can be very misleading.

So where does second screen come in? Well, second screen is definitely one of the technology trends that I alluded to in the first paragraph. With seventy five to eighty five per cent of all viewers using second screen devices while they watched TV in 2012, it can’t be ignored, and there have been some really creative examples where interaction on mobile devices has been built into the fabric of TV shows. It’s also a trend that is starting to reveal some really useful intelligence regarding audience impact, where broadcasters can take (often publicly available) data from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to assess the impact of their shows.

In fact, it is starting to become possible to gain audience insight directly, through viewers’ mobile devices. We’re starting to see examples of broadcasters launching their own apps (rather than apps from brands or for individual shows) and increasingly these will feature audio watermarking because broadcasters are now able to continually encode their entire output using this technology. Whether consumed live or on catch-up, the watermark codes can be picked up by the apps on viewers’ smartphones or tablets, enabling broadcasters to gain a detailed understanding of the consumption patterns of their shows at any time. The information obtained could be tailored to provide almost anything required, for example, which parts of which shows have gone down particularly well, or which characters resonate the most with the audience. It could also tell the broadcaster when the audience is most happy to interact via an app – is it during the adverts, for example, or through a particular segment of a quiz show? Ultimately, the collected information can tell the broadcaster when their audience is the most active on the second screen and empower them to develop the most compelling additional content accordingly. This could be access to exclusive content, play-along games and loyalty rewards.

If data from these interactions is processed and fed back accurately to broadcasters, then it can help to provide valuable insight on top of the linear TV audience research data that they are already harnessing – right down to a much more detailed level. I’m by no means suggesting that this technology has the power to replace existing ranking systems, but when used in conjunction with them, the insight can be very powerful and is a step towards getting a truer view of the audience’s reactions to any TV programme, whether online or offline, so that advertising and commissioning decisions can be made more accurately.

The way we consume content has changed considerably and is going to continue to evolve, with on-demand and mobile gradually taking on even more precedence. As the drive for increasing and more accurate data increases, broadcasters should explore how they can use mobile devices and second screen technology to capture audience insights, in order that they can make the best decisions about content and continue to give audiences what they desire.

Luc Jonker is CEO at Intrasonics.