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Are Second-Screen Apps a Cross-Eyed Idea?
Craig Leddy | Contributing Analyst

In a roundtable setting at the TV of Tomorrow Show (TVOT) in San Francisco last June, industry players engaged in an unusual political debate of sorts. At issue were not the usual election-time topics of jobs and the economy, but rather the future of interactive applications for TV.

The key topic of debate centered around a growing number of second-screen applications on iPads and other broadband-connected devices that are synchronized with content on the TV screen. Such applications have enabled viewers to use their device to play show-related trivia games, follow program-related Tweets, Tweet with friends, get additional program information, access on-demand bonus clips and, more recently, get details about Olympic medal winners.

What seems like a cool new supplement for TV touches off a heated debate within the creative community, as noted in a new Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, Double Vision: Are Second-Screen Apps the Future of TV?

The argument centers on whether the TV screen itself should be the sole display for interactive TV apps, or if it is better to rely on a second-screen device that is synced to the primary TV screen. As the report explains, either option raises significant issues about technology and business models that could affect cable and the TV industry for years to come.

The Heavy Reading report explores the prospects for second-screen apps for cable operators and programmers, principally through automatic content recognition (ACR) technologies. Included is a look at the market drivers, key challenges and cable's plans. While there are dozens of startups flooding into the companion TV apps arena, Heavy Reading has sought to identify suppliers involved in second-screen apps that are playing a role or could play a role with the cable industry and related players.

During the TVOT forum, held inside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, three sets of "candidates" represented interactive apps on the TV alone, apps on a second-screen device and hybrid solutions.

A fictional Single-Screen Party, including representatives of Scripps Networks and CableLabs, argued vehemently that the TV screen is the primary arena for viewing and also should be for interactivity, an activity that is being realized through enhanced binary interface format (EBIF) and smart TVs. The Second-Screen Party, represented by Turner Sports and Get This, contended that second screens like iPads and smartphones are providing an exciting new platform for new apps and social media. A third party, the Hybrid Party, represented by Softel and Sharp Labs, advocated for apps that use both the set-top box (STB) and other available screens.

Through mobile voting, the TVOT audience sided with the Second-Screen Party as having the most dominant platform for the future. If nothing else, Heavy Reading says, the debate demonstrated that second-screen apps have emerged as a viable option for TV service providers and programmers to enhance the viewing experience. As the explosion of tablets, smartphones and laptops expands the number of video screens, new opportunities have emerged to engage cable consumers.

But, like the debate in San Francisco, there are many questions about whether second-screen apps ultimately will win over a significant electorate of consumers and service providers. ACR is hampered by a lack of technical standards and other issues that are limiting cable's participation, the Heavy Reading report says. The apps are creatively designed and offer a wealth of interactive options. But is this the way that Americans want to watch TV?

Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider


This report, "Double Vision: Are Second-Screen Apps the Future of TV?," is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

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