Mobile browsing while watching the TV? We’re a nation of “Dual Screeners” and advertisers are learning new tricks to keep us engaged.

One of the biggest consumer trends in television these days is “Dual Screening”. More and more viewers use a mobile, tablet or a PC at the same time as they watch a show on TV to augment their viewing experience. According to Nielsen, in the third quarter of 2011, 68 per cent of tablet users, and 63 per cent of smart phone users said they use their mobile device several times a week or more while watching TV.

With social media going mobile, “dual screen” mobile or PC-based interaction often consists of using a social networking site to facilitate side discussions about the plot or characters on the show. In fact by far the most popular topic on social media to be discussed is actually TV content. Media experts have already recognised dual screening as an opportunity to get people to participate or play along, allowing a generic mass audience broadcast on the first screen (the TV) and an more personal interaction on the second screen in the individual’s hand. It is picture-in-picture across devices that has followed on from the TV content saying ‘find more information online’ and making it a more seamless experience. With such behavior now commonplace with consumers, broadcasters and brands are racing ahead to capitalise on this activity by finding ways to engage viewers with tie-in content.

Dual Screens Debut with the Super Bowl

In the US, the Super Bowl is also well known for being a big event in marketing. This year was no exception, with five major global brands using the event to launch their dual screen ads including Best Buy, Chevy, Toyota, Pepsi and Subway. Previously, Heineken launched what they claimed to be the first “dual screen” mobile marketing campaign around the 2011 UEFA Champions League in Europe.

This is not such a surprise since sporting events are ideal for dual screening. Firstly, they are incredibly social and passionate events that typically need to be watched live in groups. Secondly, they don’t have a strong narrative and contain multiple ad breaks allowing the audience to drop in and out, cross to another screen, interact with social media and then back again without losing the thread. It works best when it is close to reality, and it does not demand too much attention, so it can generate discussion and allow time for breaks to take place.

TV shows with a complex linear narrative (dramas for example), which demand and earn the audience’s full attention, are a different proposition. While they do offer a great environment for product placement, which can be enhanced by interactivity on a second screen, this may require the user to pause the linear content. In this regard, dual screening could clash rather than complement their experience, but it does allow for a radical rethink on how TV advertising can be interspersed with content to create a more seamless experience.

Dual screening also makes sense when there is already a major investment in advertising or sponsorship so adding an overlaid interactive component only helps brands leverage the money already spent. Major sporting and cultural events provide a perfect opportunity for dual screening during the ad breaks, but it is the natural intrigue of ‘what’s that character wearing’ that will create the biggest reform of TV advertising.

It is this celebrity endorsed thinking that may be driving dual screening to be explored outside of sporting events. Early reports have revealed an expectation there will be another round of dual screened ads for the upcoming Oscars.

Rethinking TV programming

Once the right type of show for dual screening has been identified, the whole process of creating TV content is likely to change to create points in the narrative that will allow or encourage complementary viewing on a second screen. Metadata needs to be added at strategic points that can be grabbed by viewers on their mobile devices. For example, a viewer could ‘roll over’ an image of an actor to be directed to additional information about the character, view extra pictures and summaries of previous episodes. In addition, there could be information about the clothes they wear, the resort where the clip was shot, coupons, links to buy, etc. For advertisers, the possibilities and potential tie-ins are endless.

This type of approach opens up a whole new dimension to TV advertising without actually changing TV advertising per se, where every celebrity is a potential spokesperson. Visualise ordering a dress worn by Sarah Jessica Parker online, or ordering a special ingredient while watching Heston. Ad creative instead of appearing at predetermined intervals between shows or breaks in the action, would be initiated by the viewer based on their own initiative, within the context of their preferred programming – providing an opportunity for personalised interactions with brands. It is user-initiated additional content as opposed to just finding new formats for TV.

Dual screening also means creating complementary content online that is browse-able: short, non linear and un-demanding, but highly personalised. Content that augments rather than clashes. This requires coordinating between both online and broadcast advertising, so as well as revolutionising the experience for viewers the ad industry itself will need to make major changes to make it possible for these difference disciplines and formats to mingle and work together.

Already, there are many types of dual screening connectivity being explored. Beyond the ‘find us on Facebook’ links at the end of TV shows and ads or ‘Twitter handles’ for TV journalists and hosts, we are also seeing QR Codes – those square patterns for mobile phone scanning – at strategic points within TV shows. A clever new variation uses high-frequency audio that is embedded in TV content and undetectable by humans but able to be detected by companion apps on secondary screens. Most of the dual screen ads seen in the Super Bowl drove re-directs to complementary content just by listening to the onscreen action. Yet the next stage will see much more interactivity in real-time. This has been pioneered in campaigns such as Honda’s Jazz ad, where a viewer could collect characters and find hidden extras by simultaneously interacting with the TV ad with a mobile app. Here, multiple audio markers were contained within a single piece of linear video content.

As well as driving what’s on the mobile screen via the TV, an intriguing development is that the reverse will also start to occur. The proximity of the mobile device means it is possible to detect the location and potentially the personal preferences of viewers. That will make it possible to customise the dynamic data in the TV programming or TV adverting itself – either based on what purchasing outlets are nearby or by the individual’s preferences. This is one factor that will help to make TV ads more personally relevant to whoever in the room as more and more TVs themselves become ‘connected’. Second screen experiences driven by soundprint technology are really starting to deliver on the decade old promise of interactive television.

Turn on, tune in, get online, talk back

Harvard Business Review recently concluded that advertisers should see dual screening as an opportunity. Equally, the signs are that us multi-taskers are receptive to this type of communication. We pay active attention to TV ads, and are more likely to engage when a product interests us; we go online to learn more, or even purchase right there and then. It is estimated that 25% of us go online after seeing a TV ad!

Additionally, marketers are gravitating toward mobile second screen experiences because, as smartphone and tablet penetration grows, so does the number of consumers who are using their mobile devices to follow up on an ad they see on TV. Adding an interactive component on smart phone or tablet both extends the time spent with a campaign, gives people an opportunity to participate, and uses a more cost-effective and measurable channel to build a dialogue between a brand and its audiences.

So as the technology gets smarter, we can also expect to experience smarter marketing built around quality content, more relevance, more interaction and user-initiated investigation of desired products. Stay tuned for more exciting developments, right here on this channel. And in your living room. And on your mobile, tablet, laptop…

As published on Huffington Post