The state of the social-TV second screen

Outside Twitter, today’s social-TV action is mostly taking place on second screens such as tablets and smartphones rather on the TV itself.

Why? The second screen has become the social-TV epicenter because of the sheer number of folks who watch TV accompanied by a tablet or smartphone, four out of five people, according to a recent study. Another study by Harris Interactive on behalf of Verizon showed that 65 percent of those planning on watching the presidential debate intended to do so with a tablet or smartphone by their side.

And while some studies indicate people are mostly just multitasking – performing a sort of “distracted viewing” by checking email and social media while on the couch — others show that a large percentage are looking for information about the show they are watching and some are even looking to discuss it.

Utility first, social second

These findings give hope and inspiration to a new crop of upstarts looking to create a socially connected viewing-guide app for the second screen. While many of the early social-TV apps like those from GetGlue were about checking in, 2012 has witnessed a landgrab around the social EPG, with a number of entrants trying to gain traction through socially integrated discovery apps that mix linear, over-the-top, and live content. Yap.TV, Zeebox, Dijit, and others have jumped in, and older players like GetGlue have also refocused their attention on a discovery guide.

These guides have been more about discovery than interaction, which reflects the current market. Given that none of these apps has enough critical mass to make the experience socially dynamic for consumers (save for the most connected early adopter), companies are instead focusing on providing true utility with a guide.

But are broadcasters along for the ride?

While some broadcasters like WWE continue to dabble in apps that are focused on live-viewing interaction, the momentum on the broadcaster side seems to be toward discovery guides that can be hooked in with a number of shows rather than one-off disposable apps.

The company that perhaps best represents this trend today is Zeebox. Zeebox found strong traction (to the tune of 1.5 million downloads) in the U.K. this year after an equity investment from BskyB, which saw the opportunity to use the branded Zeebox player as well as integrate Zeebox software IP into the hugely popular Sky+ app.

Momentum has continued stateside for Zeebox, where the company has inked partnership deals with NBCU/Comcast, HBO/Cinemax, and Viacom. NBC has indicated it will produce in-app components for over 300 shows while Viacom has also committed to integrate show-specific components into the Zeebox app using the company’s OpenBox platform.

2013: year of the second-screen app?

With broadcasters showing significant commitment, 2013 will be a big year for second-screen social TV. Zeebox’s partners are going to dedicate advertising resources to educate consumers about watching with their second-screen app, and it’s likely that other broadcasters will also look to train their users to download an app and interact as well, be it Zeebox’s or other apps.

It’s also likely that bigger players such as Google, Microsoft, and perhaps even Apple will work on their own second-screen efforts, particularly now that broadcasters themselves are showing interest.

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