All Sections

App Friday: The Rise of Two-Screen TV Viewing

A few years ago, if you talked about ‘mobile TV’, you probably meant watching shows on your phone over 3G. The mobile operators were excited about the idea, but it turned out their customers were… less enthused. Those services never did become the Next Big Thing they were tipped to be.

The idea of watching TV on your phone is making something of a comeback now, mind, thanks to services like the BBC’s iPlayer or Sky Sports’ iPhone app. However, there’s something more interesting happening with the crossover between TV and mobile phones, which can be summed up in the phrase ‘two screens’.

In a nutshell, it’s about people watching TV in their living room, while using another device on their sofa – a mobile phone, tablet or netbook. If the TV show that’s on is boring, chances are they’ll be checking email, playing a game or Googling ‘what will it take to persuade Bruce Forsyth that he needs to retire right now?’. However, what’s intriguing is what happens when they ARE engaged with the TV show.

Think the millions of people tweeting and status updating while watching reality shows like X Factor, or the growing use of check-in apps like GetGlue and Miso to share details of the shows you’re enjoying, while earning rewards for being a keen fan. There are also more traditional forms of interaction, such as text-voting, of course.

It took a while, but the TV industry is starting to get to grips with the idea of two-screen viewing, with broadcasters and producers mulling how to make the most of it. Expect to see a number of show-specific apps launched this year, with features designed to be used while someone’s watching the actual show. That could be interactive polls, or extra content around what’s happening on-screen.

This could get ambitious. Imagine watching a drama where the main character is hiding behind a box, but where on your lap you can see a CCTV camera feed of the villain edging closer. How about apps that let you play along with gameshows to see if you can get more answers right than the contestants? Or – and this may fall foul of broadcasting regulations in some countries – an app that helps you buy the clothes and products featured in a show as they appear on-screen?

Yes, you can watch TV on your phone and tablet, but in 2011, you’re more likely to be interacting with TV on those devices, while still watching it on the box in the corner of the living room.

Comments