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30 Sep, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey

Apps are proliferating as consumers begin to crave wider engagement with their entertainment

When ABC’s Emmy-winning “Modern Family” began its syndication run on USA Network in late September, USA immediately offered a synch-to-broadcast experience for the 90-plus episodes in the first four seasons, via the USA Anywhere app, or the social apps offered by NextGuide, Shazam, Viggle and Zeebox. Users were given the opportunity to view new interviews, choose ads, and access polls and trivia.

“In welcoming this new family to USA, we felt it was important to create a vibrant and socially active community where super fans can share how ‘Modern Family’ has affected their lives,” said Alexandra Shapiro, EVP of marketing and digital for USA Network. “This series has an unbelievably passionate following, and our goal is to turn the spotlight on the fans themselves and engage them on a whole new level.”

What used to be something special has now become expected in the world of entertainment apps. Zane Vella, founder and CEO of cloud software company Watchwith, which works with both app developers and content owners on synch-to-screen initiatives, said this entertainment app onslaught has been a long time coming.

“People are finally ready for all these value-added experiences,” he said. “What we’re clearly seeing is that when a network promotes an app, whether on screen or via social media, they see significant adoption. People have their phones and tablets in their hands.”

He said internal research shows 10% of consumers will download an entertainment app after seeing it advertised.

The apps are everywhere, from macro to micro. Pay-TV companies are all over the TV Everywhere trend. Approximately 70 broadcast and cable channels have their own apps now (CNN was first in mid-2011), with more introducing new ones every month. And hit individual shows are almost required to have their own companion app (“Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” etc.).

According to apps tracking service AppsFire, there are an estimated 2,000 entertainment apps available (including TV Everywhere, apps for TV shows, apps for broadcast and cable stations, apps for video services, and apps for discs).

“We’ve found that some of the better second screen apps are built with devoted TV audiences in mind,” said Gracenote president Stephen White. Gracenote’s app technology can be found in NBC and SyFy apps, allowing fans to synch their iPads with segments of “Haven,” “Defiance” and other shows and unlcom interactive content.

“[Show] producers [keep] this in mind when developing content for the second screen, giving fans a sneak peek at characters they love and a reason to come back week after week,” White said. “It’s this type of interactive content that we believe viewers are most responsive to, something that extends the storyline to the second screen and makes the viewing experience much more personal and engaging.”

Both Viacom CEO Phillip Dauman and Disney CEO Bob Iger touted the importance of entertainment apps in late September, with Viacom launching new MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central apps that offer ad-supported closed-caption content live and on-demand, and Disney pushing its ESPN, ABC and Disney Channel apps to multichannel video programming distributors.

The data and consumer studies mostly point to the same thing: more consumers are spending more time with entertainment apps.

Ashley Still, director of product management for Adobe’s Video Solutions division, said that viewing premium TV content online or via apps has grown 400% year-over-year through July 2013. More than 15% of all American households have tried TV Everywhere this year, compared with 8% in 2012, she said.

“If you look at TV Everywhere streams directly to a broadcaster or cable network, we’ve seen seven times gross unique visitors to TV Everywhere sites and apps in the first half of this year versus the first half of last year,” Still said. “Consumers are increasingly aware that this content is available, and increasingly engaging with it. It’s not just early adopters. The growth is everywhere.”

Time Warner Medialab, which researches consumer entertainment behaviors, conducted a series of second screen studies, showing that users who synch an app to a show have 26% higher engagement with the content, compared with those who are watching the show on its own. This means good things for advertisers: when an ad appears on both the TV and on the second screen, users show 14% more interest in that ad, compared with those seeing it on the TV only.

Branded apps geared toward a specific show are used mostly to get more information about the show, with men and women using them equally, and using them on both smartphones and tablets. Incentivized apps, which offer points and rewards for using them, are mainly used by women on smartphones, according to the Medialab data.

New Media Metrics, a New York-based marketing and analytics firm, released a study in September showing a 200% jump in second-screen usage among baby boomers (those born between 1946-1964).

“Part of the reason is clearly market penetration of tablets and the increased sophistication of mobile phones,” said Denise Larson, president and co-founder of New Media Metrics. “But another part is the speed of consumer adoption of these devices, especially among the so-called 'older' crowd, which is becoming at least as tech savvy as millennials.”

And a recent study by Ericsson ConsumerLab found one in four TV consumers are using a second screen to watch content simultaneously with the first screen.

“Forty-nine percent will use apps or browse the Internet to find out more about the content they are watching, while almost one in three will discuss what they are currently viewing over social networks or chats,” the report reads.

Not all the research is positive: Video discovery company Digitalsmiths recently found that 68% of smartphone and tablet owners have not downloaded their pay-TV provider’s TV Everywhere app. More than 52% of pay-TV subscribers said they didn’t even know one was available.

“Today, most pay-TV providers have apps that support tablet viewing, but the majority of subscribers don’t even know they are available,” the report reads. “With a multitude of services, pay-TV providers need to ask themselves if they’re getting out-marketed by third-party niche providers that creatively promote one service across multiple mediums, such as digital and online marketing.”

Fady Lamaa, VP of products for mPortal, which works with the likes of Comcast and Disney Mobile to deliver apps to devices, said that pay-TV providers need to be careful that they aren’t so focused on their own applications, that consumers go elsewhere for what they want.

“It will be important to ensure that service providers offer a completely integrated and fresh experience, aggregating and integrating different apps and services from not only their own portfolio, but from the ever-expanding and dynamically changing app ecosystem, where new apps are being launched, accepted and/or rejected in record time,” she said.

According to Digitalsmiths, consumers are latching on to specific channel apps, with nearly 29% of tablet and smartphone owners downloading one or more TV network app, with ABC being the most downloaded.

“The majority of respondents use these apps only one day a week, but the results show a close second at 11.4% use these daily,” the report read.

Charlie Millar, senior content acquisition strategist and business development executive for BlackBerry — which is in the midst of being acquired by Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. for $4.7 billion — said the breadth of apps available is nothing but good for consumers.

The BlackBerry World app store has both its both movie and TV store and also offers most major digital content apps.

“I think it’s very good for consumers to get whatever they want whenever they want it,” Millar said. “It’s about consumer choice and providing that choice in the application ecosystem. We see a growing opportunity for guide-based services, and the experience on the television is the primary experience.”

Beverly, Mass.-based research firm Latitude produced a study in August that found 41% of consumers are using a second screen daily while watching TV, including 50% of 18- to 34-year-olds and 35% of 35- to 59-year-olds. Sixty seven percent said they use that second screen to interact with TV content.

A majority of respondents said they’d like to see their second-screen experience have more impact on the first screen content.

“Technology is creating new opportunities to engage with narratives — but it’s not just about accessing more content in more places; it’s about the opportunity to bring stories out of the screen and into our lives,” said Latitude EVP Neela Sakaria. “We found audiences are more ready than ever to embrace new tech-driven possibilities for stories to impact us more deeply.”

That’s something Dutch filmmaker Bobby Boermans took to heart: Earlier this year he created the feature film App, specifically tied to a second-screen application that offered both general info on the film, and received sound signals while the film played, offering added content.

The film follows a young psychology student who finds a mysterious, interactive app (named Iris) on her phone. 

“Via your mobile can you as a viewer in the cinema a parallel story line that during important moments both on the big screen as on your mobile completely come together. This gives a total new interpretation of how we will experience movies in the future,” the director said. “The viewer is surprised with pictures, information and additional movie scenes that are completely sync between your mobile and the big screen in the room.”

— Erik Gruenwedel contributed to this report.

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