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Second Screen Trend: Using New Media to Revive Old Habits

“The world changed dramatically with all the smartphones and tablets. People are multi-tasking while they are watching TV.”

Adam Cahan, vice president of Yahoo!’s “Into Now” smartphone and tablet application, faced the challenge addressed in his above statement and saw an opportunity to connect that community and encourage more people to watch television live.

ABC partnered with “Into Now” to have people download and click onto the smartphone and tablet application during the May 16 and 23 showings of the hit show “Revenge” to become eligible for a free summer trip to the Hamptons, where the drama’s story is based. When used, the “Into Now” app can identify what show a viewer is watching and immediately spot Facebook friends who are doing the same thing. It taps into Twitter feeds about the show, including those from actors and producers. Trivia and other details about the show are also readily available. Since “Into Now” and ABC knew the final two episodes of ”Revenge” were going to be big, they wanted to encourage fans to buzz about it as they watch it live.

Other popular shows such as “America’s Got Talent” and “Glee” have followed suit by similarly encouraging viewers to use their phones and tablets while watching live. For the first time, viewers can even tweet the final question for Miss USA during Sunday’s broadcast. “American Idol” is one, though, that has taken the “second screen trend” (the phone as the second screen) to the extreme by flashing a hashtag onscreen to tweet for every instance of the show. Perhaps this is an easy way to measure what people are talking about at different sections of the program. But, “Idol” and FOX were likely not getting clear metrics because most Twitter users generally disregard set hashtags. They’re forcing people to just load up 140 characters with annoying hashtags rather than simply using a tool to discern sentiment of existing tweets mentioning the show. With all the money this show makes, purchasing software that pulls this information, such as Attensity’s social analytics application, would be more effective.

The second screen trend is spreading to movies as well, in an effort to bring people back to theaters (since 3D isn’t cutting it). You can’t pass a movie poster now without being bombarded with hashtags, Facebook page links, text numbers and QR codes. There’s also the soon-to-be-clichéd extra scene after the credits, or the “stinger,” as some fans call it. There was a time when the stinger was a rare treat, as with the “Go home!” moment in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Now it’s so commonplace — especially in the superhero movies — that you see a flood of tweets, Facebook posts and message board threads about stingers. But, despite the annoyance factor here, it is showing people’s return to the theater, where most of these posts are being written either during or right after the movie. Some theaters are even encouraging cell phone use during movies to boost the live appeal.

Personally, when it comes to this trend, I’m of two minds. As a PR professional, I think it’s a great move. Knowing people are glued to their phones, this is a good way to take advantage of it and to extend the value of your show or movie. On the other hand, as a viewer and fan of movies and TV, I feel this new trend takes a lot of the magic out of the experience. If I’m watching a program or movie and completely immersed in its story, suddenly seeing a hashtag onscreen or being blinded by bright phone screens in a dark theater is the same as being violently shaken by someone while sleeping and being awoken and pulled out of a great dream.

(Disclosure: Attensity is a client of Sterling’s. Neither “IntoNow,” ABC, FOX nor any other brands mentioned in this post are clients or affiliated with Sterling.)

Jordan Hubert can be reached at jhubert@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credits: BC Top Tricks; Myrtle Beach View