TV has tried to come to grips with the "second screen" for nearly 15 years. Once our computers started getting connected to the internet, networks have tried to harness that connectivity, and that screen, to add value and context to the broadcast products and advertising they were pushing. But now, a second screen is poised to supplant the first.
Back in 1998 when I was the founding content czar at cable network ZDTV, interactive and intelligent TV platforms were just starting to explore the combination of computing and video. Wink, OpenTV and Liberate were bringing computing smarts to settop boxes, while WebTV and others focused on turning the TV into a computer.
A third class of products actually synched up internet-delivered content on desktops and laptops with the TV you were watching at the time. And it seemed to work. Our companion website ZDTV.com (and then TechTV.com) saw huge traffic spikes when we talked up unique and related web content during our daily shows. Patrick Norton, Tom Merritt and Chris Pirillo were some of the early experts in the understanding of how to link up linear TV networks and the on-demand web.
And now, today, social "check-ins" layer on top of co-viewing, as more convenient tablets and phones enter the mix. New services including GetGlue, GoMiso and a host of others provide viewers and advertisers a way to connect and share with each other, while delving more deeply into the video content. But interestingly, new technology makes these new co-viewing apps less valuable than you might think.
Sure, there's tons of value in sharing a live event with friends and strangers. Who wouldn't want to speculate in real-time about JLo's aureolean slip, or Madonna's Lady Gaga slam? But we're moving more rapidly away from live linear viewing, as more of the stuff we want to watch becomes available on-demand. There just aren't that many tentpole live events that require real-time viewing. And those social co-viewing apps just don't work as well if our viewing isn't synchronized with others.
But even more importantly, the focus on the tablet as a co-viewing device is wrongheaded. In fact, I believe the tablet is about to revolutionize on-demand video viewing, as it supplants the big-screen TV for a very large fraction of primary video viewing.
We see this at Revision3. Ever since we launched our HTML5 and tablet apps, we've been seeing more and more viewing moving to that screen. We're over 30% mobile now (which includes tablet and phone), and the numbers are accelerating.
New research backs it up. A recent study by Chadwick, Martin, Bailey showed that 63% of people watching TV on a tablet do so even though similar or the same content was easily accessible on a big-screen TV in the same place [[link http://blog.cmbinfo.com/in-the-news-content-/bid/75214/Study-63-Who-Watch-Video-on-Tablet-Did-So-With-TV-Available ]].
So let me make a bold prediction. Big screen TVs will more and more be used for tentpole, live viewing – for the types of programming that must be consumed live, including sporting events, awards shows, election and disaster coverage. The big screen will also be used to view those can't miss serial programs with friends and family, including the Game of Thrones season 2 debut, Survivor Finale, Mad Men and Modern Family. During these (relatively) few and far-between video events, our tablets will become co-viewing screens, allowing us to comment, rate, and share the experience with others – or to look away when the action wanes.
The tablet, however, will become the screen of choice for most other in-home video viewing. Whether it's catching up with your favorite made-for-web programming like Revision3's Phil DeFranco Show, Epic Meal Time or Tekzilla, catching up with the last 5 episodes of Weeds or The Office, or just poking around YouTube looking for a laugh, personal viewing will more and more happen on our tablets.
And with pixel density surpassing even the best HDTVs, these personal screens will become even more viewable than our big screen displays. Think about it. A tablet held 18" from your eyes fills up more of your field of vision than a 50" TV 10 feet away. Apple continues to lead the charge here. The company's new iPad3, which will launch next week, will likely include a screen measuring 2048 x 1536. That's 50% more pixels than a 1080p HDTV measuring 1920 x 1080.
With much of our daily video viewing moving to the tablet, that means big changes in content, advertising and distribution. On the content side, expect a more intimate style of programming to rise up, as the experience of cradling a screen in your lap provides more direct connections between hosts, stories and viewers.
For advertisers, this means viewers will already be connected to a smart device when watching your ads. But unwelcome interruptions are magnified when a screen is held in your fingers, meaning that earned interruptions – including sponsor-style integrations and mid-show ad breaks – will be more palatable than the pre-roll format used today. It also means that ads will have to be more personal, entertaining and intimate as well.
And for video distributors – read broadcast, cable and web original networks and aggregators – you'll need to make sure your tablet experience is as good, or better than on any other platform. You'll need to understand the difference between how live and tentpole events are viewed, and serially consumed on-demand, and build the platforms, user experiences and sharing experiences where appropriate.
Think it's a long way off? We're actually pretty much there right now. Jason Hirschhorn, editor of the popular Media ReDefined newsletter posted a screen shot of his iPad home page – and it's basically a cable VOD system.
And for those who are building co-viewing experiences, focus on live and large shared events. Because when you're curled up with a good show, just like a good book, you really don't want to be disturbed.