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Second Screen Revolutionizes the Television Experience


In Part 1 of our series on the Second Screen, we explained the concept of the Second Screen app and discussed the opportunities for additional revenue and how to improve audience engagement and refocus attention on the primary content.


In Part 2, we examine some of the technologies that fuel the fire of this viewer engagement and become a part of the holistic approach to Second Screen.

Second Screen Technology

The common mobile apps for the iPhone, the iPad or the Android use the same platform as a Second Screen app. However, the latter also uses media-specific technologies that provide the social and interactive bits that complement the main app. These technologies have matured over the last several years to the point that they are now commonly used to enrich the app in terms of that companion aspect of Second Screen.

And this is the differentiator for the broadcasters — because merely having an app that shows the viewer the backstage cameras at the Oscars, for example, is not enough. What is important is the providing of the social element and the engaging of the Second Screen audience in a conversation that builds a totally separate audience, still engaged in the primary content.

The technologies described below provide more than just the companion aspect of the app. Instead, they also interact with the primary TV program through elements that must be added to the show postproduction or dynamically as the show airs, such as in a live event. Then, within the app, there is detection software that picks up the embedded aspects from the show.

Audio watermarking

Utilizing the audio aspects of the smart device, such as its microphone, and a complex embedded audio signal within the video content, the Second Screen app can identify the program that is playing and display graphically rich information about the show, such as the episode name, the actors, production personnel, or any other information that the producers, marketers, advertisers or network wish to provide to the Second Screen social network.

Here are a few examples:

  • Program Merchandise: On the show The Good Wife, the actress Juliana Margulies appears in a dress that is particularly appealing. Based on the point in the audio track and the episode where the dress is being worn, an ad pops up on the Second Screen App informing the viewer that the dress is available for 10% off at Macy’s, with a “click here to purchase.”
  • Ancillary Advertisement and Co-op: During a commercial break, an ad for Charmin bathroom tissue plays on the primary screen – the TV. As the ad plays, a coupon pops up on the Second Screen offering 20% off on Charmin at participating Walmarts. This involves a second chance at advertising revenue from P&G, plus co-op revenue from Walmart.
  • Online Partnership Marketing: While watching the re-broadcast of The Lion King on the primary screen – the TV, an ad pops up on the Second Screen App for 15% off on the Blu-Ray, remastered DVD set of Beauty and the Beast from Amazon. This is an opportunity involving Disney Studios, Amazon and the cable channel broadcasting The Lion King, most likely the Disney Channel.

Digital Watermarking

Digital watermarking is very similar to audio watermarking, but has more potential in terms of embedding visible or invisible watermarks. This is the process of embedding information into a digital audio, video or picture signal, just as some papers bear a watermark for visible identification. If the signal is copied, then the information is also carried into the copy. A signal may carry several different watermarks at the same time, either visible or invisible.

Video Fingerprinting

This is a technique in which the software identifies video extracts and then compresses certain characteristic components of the video, enabling that video to be uniquely identified by its resultant “fingerprint.” This may be based on any number of visual video features including, but not limited to, key frame analysis, color and motion changes during a video sequence.

Video fingerprinting has proven to be effective at identifying and comparing digital video data. However, as you might imagine, this technique is quite complex and thus requires a great deal more lead time to implement prior to release for broadcast. Most postproduction processes use it on DVD production such as Blu-Ray releases of motion pictures.

Nielsen Watermarking

Nielsen has been experimenting with technology, specifically audio watermarking, for over five years. Basically Nielsen watermarks are acoustically masked audio data packets that are embedded into every TV broadcast as part of the Nielsen TV Ratings program. Recent upgrades to the technology behind the watermarks make them usable with iPads, iPhones and other smart devices, using the onboard microphone. It creates a seamless, two-screen, interactive television experience by bridging a cable / satellite connection and a mobile device or tablet.

The app looks for certain contours in the audio signal so that it knows when to display a particular poll or other item, linking up with a precise moment in the show. This could also be an ad, or an interaction requiring some participation from the viewer. The app “hears” what is going on in the room for the first few seconds, to capture the audio watermarks embedded in the program. It can function in tandem with live TV or recorded programming from a DVR.

ABC has collaborated with Nielsen to use the latter’s technology to “listen in” when a viewer begins watching an episode of a show, and sync the app to related interactive content (i.e., polls, quizzes, show details, bios, advertisements, etc.) to enhance the experience via that Second Screen.


IntoNow is another audio listening app that identifies the TV show you’re watching and links you with other people also watching the same show. As far as companion apps go, this is probably the most popular one available for download. Toward the end of 2011, IntoNow was acquired by Yahoo!, and the latter has plans to integrate IntoNow with many of the other Yahoo! Apps, with the clear purpose of generating revenue through advertising and merchandise.

Comcast’s Social Patent

If you recall the mention of Comcast and its app called Tunerfish in Part 1 of this series, the creators of that app have gone one better.

Comcast is developing technology (and has applied for a patent) that will allow notifications to its subscribers when their friends begin watching a particular TV show or movie that they, the subscribers, have recommended, and then reward the customers with discounts on their cable bills when their recommendations are then viewed by other subscribers.

Comcast also intends to use its interactive program guides to display the most popular shows in each city in a trending way, much like Twitter. In addition, subscribers will be able to set DVR recordings or create video-on-demand playlists based on content recommended by friends. This strategy can help navigate the hundreds of TV channels and will certainly affect ratings for cable and broadcast networks.

For more information on these technologies, read Second Screen Revolutionizing the Television Experience - Part 2 (PDF, 95 KB).