Today’s viewers are spending more and more time accessing content through smartphones and tablet PCs, and are looking to communicate through social media while they do so. Hashtags now punctuate television shows and viewers are encouraged to engage with broadcast content over Twitter and Facebook. The explosion of second screen devices has even led to users ‘tweeting along’ with live TV, sharing their opinions in real-time.
Social networks have created a fully connected viewing experience and the concept of ‘Social TV’ has well and truly landed in the living room. But there’s a problem. It’s not viable to watch on-demand content while also engaging with social media on a second screen platform, such as a smartphone or tablet. These devices, after all, are second screens – intended to supplement the viewer’s experience while they watch a primary screen (i.e. a Smart TV).
Second screens are not intended as a replacement for Smart TVs. These two experiences are very different; they complement one another and will continue to exist side by side, offering different benefits to the viewer.
Smart TVs, for example, are not well suited for Social TV interaction. The antiquated up-down-left-right approach to navigation, found in the current generation of TV remote control technologies, does not easily facilitate the input of onscreen text. Many users also object to connecting their social media accounts to the family TV. In contrast, a second screen is a personal device – with a UI that readily supports the quick and accurate input of text – whereas a TV is a communal platform that’s accessible to anyone.
On the other hand, although second screen devices excel at Social TV functions, and are satisfactory for simple tasks like EPG and VoD selection, they are not well suited for navigating a Smart TV. A remote control is required for this. Smartphone applications used to control TV require several pages of virtual buttons, offering little benefit over a physical button-based remote control. This also creates a ‘heads down’ approach to navigation, not in keeping with the lean-back experience that users want from Smart TV. Second screens complement Social TV interaction, but hinder Smart TV navigation in general.
As we continue to use Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to discuss TV and online video, it’s likely that broadcasters will offer additional ways to interact with on-demand content via second screens – confirming the position of a companion device for Smart TV use. According to research firm Gartner, Social TV is set to grow rapidly over the next few years as broadcasters capitalise on the number of second screen devices that have entered the living room. Companion apps and loyalty programs will be introduced to complement live TV, while social networks will continue to dominate the viewer’s second-screen habits when watching on-demand content.
This supports the conscious shift in the TV industry away from social networking applications on Smart TVs, offloading these activities instead to personal devices. And, for this reason, it’s clear that both a second screen device and Smart TV will be required to address the expansion of Social TV.