Dual Screens Not Duelling Screens


Harvard Business Review has just offered up some fascinating research conducted by Google.

Its conclusions are critical for advertisers and broadcasters alike.

Rather than bemoan the fact that increasingly consumers are watching screens other than TV, it argues that a dual screening audience is more attractive to advertisers. Not only do multi-taskers pay active attention to TV ads, they are actually more likely to engage when a product piques their interest; going online to learn more, or even purchasing there and then.

In addition to advertising, consumers will also be driven to purchase online from TV content. Think of a fashion conscious audience watching Gossip Girl and purchasing Blake’s outfits on Net a Porter, or viewers of Jamie Oliver being inspired by a recipe to add the ingredients to their online shopping basket.

The HBR article concludes that smart advertisers should see multi screens as an opportunity rather than a threat; as dual screens rather than duelling screens.

Whilst there are obvious advantages for advertisers, how do these insights offer opportunities for broadcasters? How can broadcasters take advantage of their audiences’ multi-tasking whilst watching TV? How can dual screens deepen the audience engagement or loyalty to a show or drive larger audiences?

We’ve seen a few programmes make a virtue out of dual screens. The Million Pound Drop positively encourages the audience to play along. And the virtuous circle that saw great success for both website and TV show guarantee that we will see more of this interaction in game shows in the future. The ability of viewers at home to win will drive viewing. Another Channel 4 show, Seven Days (a hybrid documentary reality TV series), used dual screens to encourage the audience to shape the narrative. The series, while not a ratings hit, offered a compelling opportunity for the viewer to play programme maker

Many in the TV industry will suggest that some programmes simply do not benefit from such interaction. Some programmes demand absolute attention rather than a split focus.

Dual screening works well for entertainment shows. These are often shows that don’t have a strong narrative, allowing the audience to drop in and out, cross to another screen and then back again without losing the thread. TV shows with a complex linear narrative (dramas for example), which demand and earn the audience’s full attention, will probably find that dual screening will clash rather than complement their experience.

However, what programme makers want and what they get is not necessarily the same thing. If, even during compelling programmes like Mad Men, viewers are going to be on their iPads and laptops, then programme makers should offer this entertainment themselves and augment their programming rather than having others provide content that would only distract.

Broadcasters need to recognise that dual screening is going to happen more and more and to see this trend as one that opens up opportunities. As a result, they need to start planning their content around dual screening. This means identifying the most appropriate shows and then purposefully building in points in the narrative that allow or encourage complementary viewing on a second screen. And it means creating content online that is browse-able: short, non linear and un-demanding. Content that complements rather than clashes.

If broadcasters don’t, they will find that the temptations of online shopping and gossip sites will provide the entertainment and the programmes will be the losers.

Clare Phillips, Head of Strategic Planning