As Channel 4 announce the upcoming launch of the ’4Now’ second screen companion app for iOS, Kate Bulkley examines the commercial models underpinning the move by broadcasters to recapture a distracted TV audience through apps
The move is the latest by TV broadcasters to capitalise on the growing use of tablets, other “second screens” and social media.
Called 4Now, the new app will launch in July initially only on iPhone and iPad Apple devices to those viewers who have registered with Channel 4 via its on-demand service 4oD – a database that now counts nearly 8 million and includes one in three of the UK’s 16 to 24 years olds. “We see this as another way of giving registered users something else,” says Keith Underwood, director of strategy and technology at Channel 4.
The idea is to have an “always-on, centralised destination” for second screen experiences with C4 programmes. This will hopefully be easier for audiences because different apps will not have to be downloaded one by one for each TV programme. The app will aggregate show information, allow real-time quizzes and voting and allow Twitter conversations around particular shows.
There are are also potentially lucrative commercial pay-backs as well because advertisers and sponsors can be more seamlessly integrated between on-screen and on-app content across all of C4′s output and they will pay “significantly more” for an integrated sales opportunity that is possible using second screen technology.
C4 is beginning to talk to advertisers this week about some of the opportunities available. For example, sponsors of TV programme will be able to sponsor the show page for that programme on the new app. There can be links to an advertiser’s micro-site as well as the capability to do real-time, synchronised ads that are triggered on the second screen through audio recognition technology, much like ITV is doing with audio recognition ad technology app Shazam.
“The issue we have always found is that although we have developed a load of good stand-alone show apps, the issue is when that show ends, you lose that audience and in junction breaks between programmes you can’t do anything now, so with this one aggregated app you can really create some interesting experiences,” says Underwood. He adds that the launch of 4Now doesn’t “preclude” C4 from working with other third-party second screen apps like Zeebox, which is part-owned by pay TV broadcaster BSkyB, but clearly having their own app gives the broadcaster more control.
C4′s app for the Million Pound Drop game show has been the poster child for second screen apps, with some 2 million downloads to date and a live audience usage rate of 12%. But the broadcaster believes that having one aggregated app across its entire prime time schedule will significantly enhance second screen use both for viewers and for advertisers.
To date ITV has launched only programme-specific apps for big live shows like Britain’s Got Talent and XFactor and for its catch-up service ITV Player, but the biggest UK broadcaster is “developing and looking at all options” including an aggregated app approach like C4 is launching, according to an industry source.
ITV uses an ad synchronisation technology for BGT and XFactor where the mobile app for the programme includes adverts that are synced to the TV ad in real time and it released some positive statistics on second-screen advertising in late February, showing that offering so-called dual-screen (TV and a second screen) results in much stronger intent to purchase actions by viewers around products and services. Viewer engagement rates were 38% and click-through rates were nearly 9% during The X Factor finals last year.
This season’s Britain’s Got Talent app has already in the semi-final stages, reached 1 million downloads, versus 870,000 downloads for last year’s entire series. As well as “buzzing” each act using a virtual red buzzer, users can give a ‘YES/NO’ to each performance and take part in live polls. In each case, they can see what the nation (and their Facebook friends) is thinking in real time. Some 170,000 users logged into the second screen app during last Tuesday’s semi final, which is the highest number of users to date on a single show. ITV has found that the social media portion of the BGT app is key: users can follow their Twitter feed and tweet themselves without leaving the app.
A number of surveys point to rising usage of second screen devices while watching TV. According to audience measurement firm Nielsen in the US nearly 85% of tablet/smartphone users are on their devices at the same time that they are watching TV. A number of UK studies show that Britons are also multitasking at about the same level but only between 37% and 52% are using those other devices to look for something related to a show they are watching on TV.
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