The iTV Doctor Is In!: Second Screens and the Olympics, Ch. 2
We got some feed back from last week's column, particularly my comments about the future of ACR: While most agreed that set-top box (STB) sync is coming quickly, and has some distinct advantages, it appears that a combination of STB sync and ACR might actually deliver the best experience.
Dan Eakins, CEO of Zeitera (an ACR technology provider) wrote, "I think the ability for ACR to do scene-level metadata/content synchronization is important for all of our customers that want to enhance their programming at the scene level. As you pointed out in your article, providing automated EPG-related metadata can lead to some undesired user experiences."
So maybe the next several months will bring us STB sync for the initial handshake, and ACR to keep up with the action during the program. Whatever is coming, it's going to be different from what we're using today, and that's why we all love this business.
That being said, let's talk about the content from the second-screen folks. This was a blockbuster week for second screens.
ConnecTV: Founded by our friends Ian Aaron and Stacy Jolna, along with Alan Moskowitz, ConnecTV was born with a well-connected family: 10 leading broadcast groups and the Pearl joint venture.
ConnecTV is the newest of the second-screen providers, having launched only six weeks prior to the Olympics. It was one of only two (the other being IntoNow) that could reliably sync to all of the NBC Olympic channels (including the temporary Soccer and Basketball channels), and its social content (show chat, friend chat and Watercooler) generally reflected those specific channels.
Watercooler deserves specific mention, if only because I was chatting with Amanda Beard the other morning! ConnecTV programs it daily with professional guests from the worlds of sports, news and entertainment, and that is unique among the second-screen providers.
ConnecTV's Olympics-specific content was terrific--news, background information and polls; but their shopping feature was outstanding, including direct links to Amazon.com to purchase Olympics-related merchandise, including Michael Phelps' very cool headphones!
Getting away from the Olympic events, ConnecTV is a firehose of relevant information on other programs--"The Today Show," for example, loaded page after page of news headlines, plus local news, weather and traffic, in a fixed area of the screen. Useful and easy-to-navigate.
Fibe TV from Bell Canada: Because four screens (HDTV, laptop, iPhone, iPad) obviously weren't enough, I decided to make some calls and fire up a Slingbox feed from Bell Canada's IPTV service, Fibe TV. I wanted to look at the CTV Olympics single-screen interactive app that was built with the help of Corpus Media Labs.
Watching a Fibe TV receiver somewhere in the bowels of Bell's office in Ontario, I came to some conclusions: They have a LOT more Olympic channels in Canada; all of the female commentators sound like my friend Paula Suthern from Intel (she's Canadian); and single-screen interactivity can be PRETTY AWESOME!
And that last one was somewhat of a surprise. While I'm pretty sure all the program descriptions and headlines would not work on a SD television, it looked great on HDTV. And with the traditional "L" frame design, it was clean and easy to use--mostly news, results and navigation. And zipping around the "L" frame generally did not interfere with the primary video real estate.
I'm pleased to know the industry hasn't entirely abandoned single-screen interactivity. There are certainly some experiences best suited to one screen, and some best for two screens (or in my case four screens...). And perhaps we will find that our old friend EBIF might do double-duty as a single-screen app standard and a multi-screen trigger device--and then let the consumer decide which to use.
IntoNow: Up until the Olympics, I have not been a huge fan of IntoNow. Compared to some of the other players in the space, I found their content to be light and not terribly compelling. But that all changed when they introduced their CapIt feature just as the Olympics began. TechCrunch writes, "On the backend, CapIt works by capturing one image per second of pretty much all the moments that happen on screen, and then holds them for a week. That's more than 15 million images a day, according to [IntoNow founder, Adam] Cahan. So even if you're watching something on DVR, it will be able to match your image, as long as it's been over the past week."
I started playing with CapIt right off the bat, and even found I could "cap" scenes from the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, playing on my DVR, a week later (which means CapIt was actually running prior to IntoNow's July 30th announcement). But the real fun came as I was assembling this column, on Monday August 6th. I had the USA vs. Canada Women's Soccer match playing in the background and between attacks of apoplexy (anybody who watched the game will understand), I reached over to the iPad and hit the IntoNow CapIt button. And finally, at the end of the game, I got the perfect shot of Alex Morgan after she scored the winning goal. I captioned the pic and posted it on Facebook in a matter of seconds.
IntoNow was only one of two (ConnecTV was the other) second-screen apps that could reliably sync with all of NBC's Olympic channels. Other apps knew that I was watching the Olympics, but couldn't always sync with the specific channel. And this is interesting: IntoNow was the only app that could sync during the commercial break (a time when viewers might be more likely to switch channels and re-sync).
Shazam: As the official second-screen partner for NBC's Olympics coverage (a role similar to what they did for NBC's Super Bowl), Shazam had an inside track and plenty of advance notice for the television coverage on the cluster of NBC channels, along with NBC's own complementary content. And Shazam even added some of their own tricks, the most impressive of which was the marriage of their music ID service to their TV functionality. What that meant was that during the Opening Ceremonies I could find each and every one of the 100 or so music bites played during those five hours of programming.
And what's even more valuable is that Shazam stores my "tags," so that even as I write this, I can scroll back and find that the second song played was "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet, and even order the song on iTunes. And I can zone out to "Eterna" from Audiomachine (the official theme music of the Olympics).
Shazam provided video highlights, news features, and NBC's own event schedules and results. And here's where we start finding a departure of folks who grew up in the SECOND-screen space (emphasis on "second") from folks who grew up in the FIRST-screen space. Shazam re-formatted the NBC data to make it more user-friendly. When I looked for the soccer results on Saturday on Shazam, I saw four games listed with the countries of the respective teams. One click on any game and I saw the results. On NBC's own version of the same information, I saw the same four games, but I didn't see which teams played. So I had to click on each game to find out who played, and what was the outcome. A lot more clicks, and needlessly annoying.
Shazam's experience with the second screen made the consumer experience more satisfying than NBC's version of exactly the same content!
Viggle: One of the things I really like about ALL the second-screen providers is their speed and creativity. And their willingness to make mistakes. I've spend enough years in a corporate environment to know that you can be completely paralyzed by a "mistake avoidance" attitude. Which is sorta why I enjoy watching the Viggle folks at work.
They get it right 97% of the time (and don't agonize over that last 3%), and this just might be why they just seem to be a bit more agile than everybody else. When they launched their terrific Viggle Rewards program, I wrote a column expressing my concerns about the costs. But they've adjusted: they've raised the cost (in points) of their rewards, and they've provided more ways to spend points (e.g. sweepstakes entries).
And they've been working hard on their Viggle Live feature, which rewards viewers (with the above-mentioned points) for active participation in trivia, polls, etc.
Viggle Live hit its stride during the Olympics, with a steady flow of questions during daytime and primetime. But it was during the Women's Gymnastics Individual Finals on Sunday night that the value of a LIVE HUMAN BEING at the throttle was proven. When McKayla Moroney ended up on her rump on her first vault, the question was posed immediately: "Can she recover from that?" It was immediate and personal, like a friend was asking me the question. And frankly, it was more inviting than the constant on-screen pandering of the television commentators.
However, when Viggle Live asked, "Who will score the next point?" during a Women's Beach Volleyball game, the question/answer/close/points sequence wasn't completed until about two more points were scored. The Beach Volleyball action moves very fast, and the same process that works for Track & Field, Swimming and Gymnastics just doesn't translate.
Watch With eBay: The second screen is obviously not eBay's primary business, and it shows. They are not using any kind of automatic sync, opting instead to let the viewer pick the television program from a localized program guide (the guide is locked in when you sign up for the service).
Unfortunately, Watch With eBay lost the guide information for all NBC-owned channels during the first weekend of the Olympics, and has had intermittent problems since. I'm on the East Coast, and Tracy Geist had similar problems on the West Coast.
Here's what Tracy had to say about Watch With eBay: "It's easy enough to download the app. But unless you are in this industry I don't know how you would ever know it exists: the Olympics are not in the 'popular' show list on the first page of the app. So, clearly it can't be going off ratings. When going to the 'guide' option to find the Olympics, it often wasn't there (even when programming was on) and when it was there it was only one of the many NBCU channels as an option. Once you got to the Olympics and the related items for sale, it was fine. However, the filter didn't always filter to the right requests. All in all, it was a less than compelling experience and more of a distraction from watching the games themselves."
And despite the assurance from Watch With eBay execs that "most" of the items for sale on eBay are from retailers, I found a lot of content about the USA Women's Soccer Team that tended towards eBay item #28093435973 "RARE OCT 2010 WOMANS (stet) USA SOCCER HOPE SOLO ESPN MAGAZINE THE BODY ISSUE NAKED!!" You could buy it for $20.49 at press time.
If you are experienced with eBay, the app doesn't do anything you couldn't do faster by yourself. If you're not experienced with eBay, the app is confusing.
zeebox (note: zeebox's app is reviewed by Ben Collins of Collins Technology Consulting, Ltd.; zeebox is currently available only in the UK--it's coming to the US later this summer): "One of the unique features of zeebox is zeetags, and they are a great idea. Some events appear to be supported by live human editors, as zeetags come in thick and fast and are generally relevant to the show. But for some events the zeetags seem to be a bit off-target; however, it must be said that there are over two dozen channels carrying the Olympics in the UK, and zeebox certainly doesn't have live human editors for all channels and all events.
"With zeebox you get some basic event information, athletes, etc. The official Samsung app is the place to go for all your event information, timetables, results and more, but that doesn't relate to what's on the TV at any given time.
"The ability to 'Shout Out' to your linked Facebook and Twitter accounts makes it easy to let your friends know what you're watching. You can set up 'chats' with your friends or just join in a 'group chat' with other people on zeebox, as well as monitor tweets that are going on.
"Tweets sometimes have the option to 'Filter'; the filters available seem to depend on the show/time of day. I've seen filters during events for 'Athletes' and 'Commentators'. By default the app shows all tweets."
Well, that's it for this week. Next week we'll give some grades, and possibly focus on the future of second screens.
The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.
Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org