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The Second Screen: Moving Beyond Twitter

By Dave McNamara

With the explosion of the smartphone and the tablet market, a shift known as the second screen is quickly taking over how people consume media.  This phenomenon of the second screen essentially means that while people are watching television in the comfort of their living room, they are simultaneously accessing the web on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones.


According to the Nielsen Company, in figures they released in October 2011, approximately 40% of viewers use mobile devices while watching television. A majority of the activity currently involves time during commercial breaks checking email or sports scores, looking up actor/actress information, or interacting on social networking sites. While this activity would seem disruptive to traditional marketing models, the Nielsen report also discovered that over 1 in 10 of these users checked product information and coupon deals on their devices.

Instead of trying to compete with the second screen, major media companies are seeking to weave the two screens together into a cohesive social television experience. The screens for every major award show and news show are plastered with twitter hash tags to attract live tweets from viewers.  MTV’s 2011 VMA show attracted a record-breaking 5.6 million hits from social media on the day it aired August 28, 2011. With the revelation of Beyoncé’s baby bump during the show, @twitterglobalpr revealed that twitter received a record bump of 8,868 tweets per second. Culling instant feedback like award buzz allows media companies to adjust their content and social strategies according to what attracts enthusiastic attention.

Beyond shaping content strategies from twitter streams and facebook comments, the second screen poses an entirely new platform for marketing and connecting viewers to products. Traditional ad spots are becoming less and less significant.  As Game Day for Super Bowl XLVI approaches this Sunday, major companies have been pre-releasing promotions and commercials. Honda has released “Matthew’s Day Off” a tribute to the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Not to be outdone, Volkwagen has released “Dog Strikes Back” an extension of their 2011 commercial featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader.

But, in the rapidly-changing online world, pre-releasing commercials to just the second screen is already très passé.  The interaction of the second screen and first screen together is the future, and major companies and advertisers recognize this shift.

For Game Day, Google is customizing their search resources into a microsite where users will be able to search for recipes,  an entire game day site complete with recipes, pre-game trivia, and essential mobile information like the scores once the kickoff happens.

Other companies have also created sites to engage users via the second screen on game day.  Coca-Cola has created a facebook app that features a polar-bear game-watching party.  Pizza delivery chain Papa John’s is promoting their site where users can register for the Papa John’s reward program and pick whether the coin toss for the Super Bowl is heads or tails. If a user’s prediction matches the coin toss on Game Day, she will receive a free pizza courtesy Papa John’s. General Motors has created a Chevrolet mobile app for the iOS and Android mobile platforms to enable fans to interact and possibly win promotions. Fans who registered before January 27 received unique license numbers that give them the opportunity to win one of the cars featured in the Chevrolet XLVI commercials based upon matching a fan’s license number to the license plate of one of the cars.

Even though uncertainty about the future platforms of media and advertising persists, capitalizing on the second screen is a considerable opportunity for advertisers. With a well-thought-out strategy and matching execution plan, a coordinated campaign can unite competing media platforms like television and smartphones. With the added benefit of instant feedback and accurate metrics, the efforts can precisely engage target audiences. The viewers can instantly access timely promotions on their second screen devices, improving response rate to the ads.

Captivated Cat

About Dave McNamara:

Dave McNamara’s fascination with technology began early on as a child, visiting his father at work as a programmer at NASA. Dave is part of the Interactive team working with developing the agency’s web/mobile initiatives and advising on new media strategies. He just graduated this May with an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University concentrating in Information Systems and Security. His perfect morning consists of sipping on a fresh-roasted cup of espresso and listening to old (and new) records.

6 Comments on “The Second Screen: Moving Beyond Twitter

  1.  by  Emily Valentine

    Great post, David! I’ll be looking for examples of the second screen strategy on Sunday night. It’s a multi-multi-multi-tasking world out there.

  2.  by  Nicole

    I definitely agree that companies need to be aware of and strategize on “second screen” technology. I don’t think anyone has found a winning solution yet; as you said, most people use their mobile device during a commercial break…but then they’re missing the commercials! Except for some major events, like the Super Bowl, I think traditional TV commercials will soon be a thing of the past (most of us are already fast-forwarding through them anyway – thank you DVR!). Companies will need to find a balance between interacting with the audience and not succumbing to “product placement 2.0”.

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  4.  by  Taimarie Locke

    I am part of the 40 percent of television viewers who also use mobile devices. Most people would agree that time is of the essence. The more I can multi-task the better. It will be interesting to see how companies try to differentiate their brand while using the “second screen.” How is the move from television to computers, mobile devices or other electronics affecting regular television advertising? We’ve already seen a change in television advertisements through systems like Tivo, will this second screen lead to the end of commercials all together?

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