nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Fox’s 2nd screen syndication network: how it works, why it’s needed

Providing a second screen experience for TV and movies is becoming increasingly important in the business of entertainment. Today, part-and-parcel of any major show is a host of bonus features designed to draw the viewer in to the experience. Unfortunately, getting viewers to download an app so they can enjoy it continues to be a challenge.

The solution, of course, is to get the content to the apps that people are already using. Easier said than done! However, this is precisely what Fox has announced it will do with the assistance of San Francisco-based Watchwith and a host of syndication partners.

Does Fox really need the assistance of third party apps when it has its own second screen app, FoxNow? The evidence seems to suggest they do. As Jeremy Toeman, CEO of Dijit, commented, “Apps that are only valuable for 44 minutes aren’t very compelling.” Data that will be made available in a free white paper through nscreenmedia next week indicates Toeman is right. The average number of downloads for broadcaster second screen apps is a disappointing 160,000.

This is a big problem for content providers as second screen apps can benefit them in two very important ways. First, getting viewers to come back to back to live TV is a critical goal. With many people watching on-demand through DVRs, there is a high likelihood they will skip the ads. Watching the live broadcast increases the chances the ads will be seen.

Second, bonus content can provide additional revenue. A broadcast ad is worth more if a viewer can request a coupon or research more information about a product. As well, the second screen can provide additional advertising opportunities.

Currently, Fox uses FoxNow to deliver a sequence of bonus content to tablets and smartphones synchronized with a show as it is being broadcast. This bonus content can be anything from a different camera angle to an opportunity to request a coupon for Pampers in an on-TV ad.  Fox is working with Watchwith to deliver this same experience through other apps. Watchwith is a cloud platform for building synchronous TV experiences.

Watchwith allows a content provider to write a timeline of events, a script, of what bonus content to deliver and at what time to deliver it during a show. A third party app, such as NextGuide from Dijit, uses Watchwith to synchronize with the show during the broadcast and read the timeline to display the bonus content at the right time. As Zane Vella, CEO of Watchwith, told me the company allows content providers such as Fox to unlock additional value by allowing this writing and reading of the show timeline.

In order to take advantage of the Fox bonus content an app provider like Dijit or Viggle must first strike an agreement with Fox.  Once this is done, integration with Watchwith is through standard web techniques.

Jeremy Toeman explained what the experience is like using the NextGuide on an iPad.  A guide user can see when a favorite show is being broadcast with bonus content and set a reminder to watch. Once the show starts, NextGuide uses Watchwith to synchronize with it. From then on, Watchwith tells NextGuide when new content should be displayed. The user can choose to let the bonus content take over the iPad’s screen and enjoy the synchronized experience exactly as Fox intended. Toeman explained how the arrangement works in terms of the browser paradigm. “We <NextGuide> are the equivalent of the browser, Watchwith is the HTML and Fox is the website.”

This arrangement seems to benefit everyone involved. Viewers can more easily access the bonus material, content providers get to sell more ads and app creators provide another reason to use their app. With such a mutually beneficial system, expect to see other content providers embrace second screen syndication in the coming months.

To sign-up for the free white paper Second Screen Apps for TVclick here.

Update 2/28/13: News from the UK that second screen sync advertising really seems to work. Shows click-thru rates of 8.75% and post-ad action increasing from 35% to 49%.

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