We’re all doing it, evidently. Well, around 80% of us are anyway according to a recent study by Nielsen. Doing what? Using our mobile devices whilst watching TV.

It seems that no respectable TV show is complete these days without a twitter hashtag emblazoned across the screen at some point, encouraging us all to engage in conversation with eachother, or indeed with the TV producers themselves. Not long ago, presenters and programme makers had to explain what the hashtag meant…these days no explanation is given – a simple #madeinchelsea or #bgt on screen tells us all we need to know.

Second screen apps

But the world is moving on apace and a new breed of application is firmly taking hold to really bring a new dimension to our TV viewing pleasure. Available on mobile and tablet devices (the “second screen” as they’re known in this context), apps such as Zeebox not only allow you to engage in conversations about the show you’re watching, but also get access to more content about the show (Zeebox decodes the audio stream and picks out interesting words which it displays as clickable ‘zeetags’) as well as download show-specific apps.

Zeebox recently launched the UK’s first synchronised second screen ad campaign for Twentieth-Century Fox’s new blockbuster Prometheus – with the app automatically recognising when the ad airs on TV. According to Zeebox’s head of product Simon Miller, “This represents the first use of zeebox as a platform for advertisers, and showcases zeebox’s real-time ad recognition technology that enables a promotion to run on the second-screen in synch with a TV commercial.

Zeebox are going all out to gain second screen market share. Having signed a strategic partnership with Sky (who have taken a 10% stake in the company) they developed their own ad campaign which resulted in new sign-ups reaching 15,000 per hour.

The Britain’s Got Talent battle

Last Saturday, during Britain’s Got Talent, the battle started – with Zeebox competing with Shazam for second screen user attention. Thanks to an exclusive deal signed between Shazam and ITV, during the show’s ad breaks, the UK’s first ‘Shazamable’ ads appeared – for Pepsi Max and Cadbury’s.

Shazam encouraged users to ‘tag’ the ads using its audio recognition technology. Doing so took them to a branded microsite where they were in with a chance to win tickets to some of the UK’s best festivals.

Zeebox’s zeetags clicked through to related websites allowing users to buy products – for example the ‘Pepsi Max’ zeetag which appeared during the Pepsi Max ‘Crowd Surfing’ ad linked through to the Tesco online store, allowing people to buy there & then, with Zeebox earning affiliate revenue as part of the process.

Who will win?

Just as in any digital engagement, user experience is key here. If users are expected to engage, the experience has to be simple.

Tagging the Shazamable ad relied, of course, on the user having the app open & ready – which is where I think Zeebox has the edge from a usability perspective.

Zeebox is designed to be used during the whole TV show. And because it’s a more immersive experience, users are more likely to keep it open – thereby giving them more of an opportunity to engage with ad-sycn’d experiences or commerce-based zeetags.

Shazam, on the other hand, isn’t something I’m likely to have open on my mobile or tablet – so they have a job to do in giving people advance warning that a Shazamable experience is coming up. Which is just what they did – communicating the upcoming ad through email and updates on their facebook page & other digital properties.

With more & more people using their mobiles & tablets for second screening, we’re likely to see more developments from both app providers. And don’t think there won’t be other players entering the market either. Other second screen apps such as Yahoo’s IntoNowMiso and Getglue already have market share in the US and could well decide to enter the race here in the UK. Watch this space!

What are your experiences of second screening?

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About the author

Matt Hardy, Digital Director & Joint MD
Matt's interest in the web started way back in 1997. Long before the dot-com boom & bust. Long before we talked about 'digital'. Since then he's been an avid digital technologist & early adopter. With a background in software engineering & a passion for creativity, that's no surprise. Matt joined the agency in 1998 and since then as Digital Director has been instrumental in building the agency's digital capability. In April 2011 he split his role to also become Joint MD. In his spare time he loves being with his wife & 4 daughters. You can follow him through his many social profiles.