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July 10, 2014
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ITV: We have only just begun to realize second screen ad potential

The success of the second screen ad formats being used by ITV has led the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster to conclude that synchronized second screen is worthy of being described as a new advertising paradigm. That is certainly the view of Jon Block, Controller of Commercial Digital Products at the company. He told Connected TV Summit recently: “The best part is that we have only just begun to realize its potential.”

Advertisers on ITV second screen apps, covering smartphones and tablets, are achieving click-through rates that dwarf what is typical with mobile display advertising, reinforcing television industry hopes that broadcasters can take a greater share of ‘digital’ marketing spend. This interaction is underpinned by the willingness of the second screen app users to ‘get stuck in’ and enjoy the apps.

The technology that underpins much of the excitement is ITV’s Ad Sync, which allows advertisers to take over the tablet or smartphone screen during the broadcast commercial break. Brands can use this interactive real-estate to push extra advertising content.

Using Ad Sync in the second screen app for the (autumn) 2013 series of The X Factor, Specsavers (opticians) achieved a 29% click-through rate by giving users the chance to find out more about characters in their TV ad, which is nearly 60 times the typical mobile display ad click-through rate. Strepsils (sore throat remedies) used the Ad Sync format during the same series of The X Factor to offer a mini-game, hosted via a browser. The click-through rate for that was nearly 38%.

During the same series of The X Factor, Domino’s (take-away pizza) offered its ‘Fiery Fingers of Fire’ game where you had to tap your touch screen 500 times in a minute to access a “sizzling deal”. Over 64% of people inside the app played the game and the click-through rate was 15%.

Asda (supermarket) used Ad Sync to take over the second screen app so users could create their own snowman and share it with friends. The interactive ad launched to over 102,000 app users and 54% of them started to engage with the game, with 36,000 going on to create a personalized snowman during the three-minute take over. 14% of these snowmen were shared on social media. The click-through rate was 20%.

More recently, the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) play-along app hosted synchronized second screen advertising with notable effects. For the final of the variety act talent show, Virgin Media ran a broadcast advertisement on television while an app take-over offered you the chance to play a car racing game. The engagement rate for this Ad Sync game was 76%.

Everyone who was in the BGT play-along game during the broadcast ad break saw the second screen ad load,  and that counted as an impression. The 76% engagement figure means that for every 100 impressions, the race game was started 76 times. The replay rate (people finishing the race and pressing replay) was over 45%.

Block finds the figures impressive. “They are incredible. It is amazing, the engagement levels these games drive.”

Virgin Media was the only game-based Ad Sync that ITV ran during Britain’s Got Talent and so far only a few clients have used the format, but it is early days. Two games models have been used: games run within the Ad Sync unit itself (Domino’s with two different games, Asda and Virgin Media) and one where Ad Sync drove people to an in-app browser hosted by the advertiser (Strepsils).

Turning his attention to second screen usage more generally, Block noted the power of the on-air call to action, which broadcasters and show producers can deliver. “We can have Ant & Dec [celebrated presenter double-act that front various hit ITV shows] or Dermot O’Leary (The X Factor host] driving people to the app,” he noted.

ITV is now actively looking to launch new shows that have second screen features ‘built in’ and Block pointed to the Israeli show format, ‘Rising Star’, which ITV is launching in the UK, as an example. This is a singing talent contest with a live audience, judges and voting, except the home audience votes via the second screen app and their votes, far more than the judges (who have only a 30% voting share) decide the outcome, with their verdict being delivered in real-time and viewer photos appearing on a large screen as they vote ‘yes’. Once the singer has won over enough voters the screen lifts to reveal the singer to the live audience.

This show will be co-produced by ITV Studios and Keshet International UK and ITV is asking for contestants to apply before October this year. The show has been a major success in Israel with nearly 50% audience share. “This show has second screen built into its core,” Block noted. He added that shows with second screen features that are integrated to this extent (the show relies on second screen interaction, rather than uses it to complement your viewing pleasure) will be the exception. “But this is an exceptional exception.”

Block gave a list of the lessons that ITV has learned over four years of experience with second screen apps. They have learned that the audience needs are: Sharing (e.g. share your thoughts about a show; Control and discovery; Fulfilling curiosity (e.g. more information about actors); Complementary engagement (e.g. play-along games); Rewards (competitions, rewards for loyalty); Contributing (what you say appears on the first screen); and Getting closer to the content (e.g. behind-the-scenes footage).

“For entertainment shows it is mainly about sharing, enhancing the experience through gamification, and feeling that you are contributing to the show so that you are part of something that is bigger than yourself,” Block explained. “In drama there is a second screen world before and after the show that is more about curiosity.”

Successful second screen app projects need calls to action (“As long as you can get into the broadcast airtime, that favours broadcasters and producers”, Block declared) and minimal barriers to entry (Tweeting is a low barrier and downloading an app is a higher barrier). Viewers must also be aware of what the rewards are if they use the app.

Block said game-based advertising (or “play-along advertising”) is successful for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that it is interactive and immersive (advertisers take over the whole tablet or smartphone) and therefore high impact. “And all our research shows that this is non-intrusive and that is because we only allow advertisers to take over the ad break and the audience understands that trade-off [of content in return for ads] on the second screen as well.

“It is mass-participation, and we have only scratched the surface on that,” he explained. “Finally, there is a lower barrier to entry; it is a small segment of the audience on that second screen and for them it is push advertising and they do not have to click a button. You cannot say none of this has happened before but what is different is the way we are bringing these things together under one roof; it is totally integrated.”