Since the ”smart TV” concept kicked off around five years ago, electronics companies have been working overtime to entice viewers with Internet-connected sets that have apps and social networking built in. During that same time, though, a rise in so-called ”second screen” experiences — everything from indie apps like Miso to Amazon’s integrated X-Ray service, which allows you to look up IMDb fun facts about the movie or series you’re watching on your Kindle Fire HD — has shown that we’re already holding the key to truly smart TV. Turns out that rather than wanting our HDTVs to be 60-inch computers, we all prefer tweeting, Googling, and liking with our smartphones and tablets while we watch TV.
Stat master Nielsen confirms that this multitasking habit is real, with recently released figures showing that 78 percent of us have double-dipped with a tablet at least once a month, while 43 percent of us already do so every day (smartphone stats were nearly identical). As this trend continues its transformation from occasional into core viewing habit, what we’re witnessing is the next evolutionary stage of television. And with sources at Apple confirming that companion apps for our TVs are a hot prospect among iOS developers, it’s no stretch to assume that a second screen is quickly joining the venerable remote control and cable box as a standard part of our television viewing experience.
”With social platforms, there’s enormous evidence that people want to interact using second screen,” says Jason Kint, senior VP and general manager at CBSSports.com. For this year’s Super Bowl — which set a record for a single broadcast with more than 52 million game-related social messages — CBS let second-screen Web viewers vote in polls and see exclusive stats, as well as access an ”All-22” camera angle showing both teams’ players and control a ”Fan Choice” camera. Kint says that while it’s still the early days, we may have finally hit upon the formula for truly interactive TV. ”You still want to have this big primary screen,” he says. ”The breakthrough is that the interactive and social components are a more personal experience, and so you want that info separate on a second screen.”
Beyond Twitter-bait event programming like sports championships and awards shows (the Oscar ceremony, for instance, has had an app since 2011), second screen’s big allure is the potential for any one app to become the sole portal from which you experience all of your TV. Sima Sistani, Yahoo!’s director of business, who oversees the company’s second-screen app IntoNow, says that our apps will know us extremely well. ”The future is personalization,” she says. ”So getting an alert that my friend is watching Duke play: Do I want to join her? Or ‘I see you’re a fan of Scandal. You’d like The Americans — would you like an alert when the show starts?”’ And we can expect interactivity to become normal — including more e-commerce, as with Fox’s FOX NOW app, which lets viewers buy onscreen items from shows like New Girl.
Whatever the new features, it’s clear that the brainiac TVs that were set to rule our living rooms are quickly being eclipsed by today’s much nimbler phones and tablets. With Apple CEO Tim Cook hinting on April 23 that new products are due this fall, we look forward to seeing how the legendarily innovative company will tackle the future of TV — especially when the future is already in our hands.