Why viewers aren't 'appy with a second-screen sell

Seven, Nine and Ten's attempts to get viewers to use their own apps have been flops, and Twitter's success remains impossible to replicate for the networks.

There’s a commonly accepted notion that when people are watching TV they are often engaging simultaneously with another screen or form of media.

Pre iPhone this second screen was generally the laptop or desktop computer. As the smartphone became more prevalent it became more about mobile usage.

Mobile is now considered the second screen when it comes to TV and how TV will function in the future. The belief is TV and mobile will work in tandem, allowing content makers and brands the ability to engage with audiences across multiple devices at the one time.

It’s a compelling storyline that creates a lot of excitement when it comes to TV networks and also advertisers. A dual screen environment which melds the technology and data connectivity of an internet enabled mobile device, with the rich storytelling and trusted talent that is TV’s foundation.

There is no doubt that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are used by consumers wanting to further extend their TV experience. Shows such as the ABC’s Q&A have integrated social platforms well to add discussion and content to the shows format. Large rating shows like The Block and My Kitchen Rules dominate the Twitter stream during their airtime as well.

My feeling is there is only room for one second screen app, and this app is Twitter. The networks strategy of attempting to develop their own, walled garden social companion applications is a flawed one that is failing to generate real traction with consumers. Twitter offers people what they need - scale, reliability and simplicity. On top of this, for most users it’s something they use in their day to day.

Australia presently has three network affiliated TV companion apps. Nine has Jump-in, Seven has Fango and Ten has Zeebox. On top of this there’s Twitter - which generates the majority of TV related social chatter. The idea that a normal TV viewer has room on their home screen for four TV related social applications is perplexing.

There is no denying the TV social app ecosystem is a sexy one for those looking for a next big thing. It stirs together the mysterious world of apps, the next big thing platform of mobile, the revolution of TV and the overarching and liberating concept of social media. The theory is that by adding a layer of ‘interaction’ it will bring the broadcast TV concept into a much more participatory realm.

The sell is clear for the industry, but it doesn’t appear consumers are buying it.

Google keyword tools estimate that there are only 9,900 searches for the term ‘Fango’ per month in Australia. ‘Zeebox’ fares worse, with 4,400. In fact, total global searches for Zeebox (which has active apps in the US and UK as well as Australia) were only 33,100.

Graph for Why viewers aren't 'appy with a second-screen sell

Let’s contrast this with a few other search terms and their monthly volume. ‘Torrent’ is searched for 5 million times a month within Australia. Top ratings TV shows such as The Block and The Voice average 1.2 million search queries per month via Google in Australia.

Even the term ‘myspace’, the forgotten social network, generates 135,000 search queries a month in Australia. That’s 30 times the volume of Zeebox and 13 times the volume of Fango.

Looking at the iTunes Free App chart for July 1, the highest ranking of the companion apps is Jump-In at number 138. Neither Zeebox or Fango are in the top 200.

‘Fango’ does receive a strong bump during Seven’s ‘Australian Open’ coverage - but dips significantly immediately afterwards. Zeebox’s only real sign of life was in November of 2012 when it launched (see below). This is despite frequent and aggressive on-air promotion during key programming.

Graph for Why viewers aren't 'appy with a second-screen sell

Yes, search engine sentiment is only one data set, but it is the best publicly available information on whether there’s consumer demand for further information around these apps and is a strong representation of the Australian population due to the 90 per cent plus market share of Google search. One would assume that if free-to-air TV engages the attention of 15 million people per week there would be more than 4000 searches per week for the two leading companion TV apps.

Broadcaster affiliated applications are a solution to a problem consumers don’t have. At best they are a resource distraction, and at worst they are a financial drain taking resources away from areas that could do with more spending such as programming and news.

Just because people are using their mobile phones and tablets when they are watching TV it doesn’t mean they want to use their mobile phones and tablets to talk about and engage with TV. And it especially doesn’t mean they want to download multiple apps specific to TV networks. The logic is flawed and lazy. The discussion will continue to happen on one platform – and that platform will most likely be Twitter for reasons the broadcasters cannot replicate.

If these broadcaster apps are the future of TV, someone better tell the viewers because right now they don’t seem to care.

Ben Shepherd is a media and technology consultant. He can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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