Verdict's in on ABC's 'My Generation' IPad App

Co-Viewing App Has Bells and Whistles, but Misses Opportunities for Social-Media Interaction

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Kunur Patel
Kunur Patel
Last week ABC introduced a "co-viewing" iPad app that's meant to enhance the new series "My Generation" by delivering poll questions, trivia and other elements in perfect sync with each episode as it airs.

I tried it out during last week's premiere of "My Generation," a show about a Texas high school class 10 years after graduation. Will I open it up again tonight when "My Generation" returns? Probably not.

I launched the app when opening credits were under way and, while it took a couple tries because of bad internet connectivity, the app amazingly "heard" the show and got immediately in step with what was happening on screen. Nielsen's listening technology, which uses the iPad's mic to synch app content with the video, is flat-out cool. It was a constantly updating stream of bits and pieces about the show without having to scroll or refresh. Every time one of the numerous characters showed up in a scene, a headshot and bio appeared in the stream to remind me who exactly he or she was. I wondered how many hours it took to program the app with all that ancillary content, on top of what it usually takes for scripts and reams of marketing material.

Numerous quizzes and polls related to the show followed, from "How big is that margarita he just ordered?" to "Are you still in touch with your high school best friend?" Later, results aggregating all of the iPad users' answers would appear -- yes, about half of the app's respondents are still in touch with their high school buds -- followed by a couple factoids about the show's production. Some tidbits were basically pop-up video for TV shows, telling me the names and artists of songs playing in the background, or why the fake documentarian decided to include that particular character.

But the missing element was other people. There were other viewers sitting on other couches out there also watching with iPads in their lap, but they were invisible to me as I used the app. Social media has already taught us that there is a universe of people who are happy to take the time to update networks or futz around with apps while they're watching TV. When live events air, especially things like the Olympics, awards shows or series with fanatical followings, people already get on Twitter and Facebook to contribute to the peanut gallery. But the "My Generation" app, while mesmerizing, doesn't seem tailored for social interaction. It isn't about how the viewers react to the show; it's just about more show-related content.

While I could post to Twitter and Facebook through the app, those functions seemed slow and buggy -- although it's possible that's because my friend's wireless was down and I had to resort to spotty 3G. But, again, the posts only went one way: out. Outside of the poll results, the app didn't show me any of its users or any of their buzzing on social networks.

It's a missed opportunity. Isn't social-media chatter what co-viewing is all about? Are we co-viewing with other viewers, or just with a piece of software from ABC?

All in all I liked the show and liked the app, but without a more social experience, I'm not sure I'll think of the app as new episodes air.

Kunur Patel is a digital reporter at Ad Age.
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