BSkyB points the way towards the umbrella app

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    BSkyB’s new Sky+ app for iPad goes live this week, taking the existing ‘companion screen’ features like channel change and DVR bookings and layering on what we have come to think of as ‘second screen’ experiences, such as connecting to online communities around shows and seeking additional show-related information. This gives the Pay TV operator the chance to become the default gateway to second screen experiences and throws some more light on how the second screen market could develop, especially in relation to the role of platform operators.

    It does look like there is a realistic chance for Pay TV platforms to become the ‘umbrella app’ on tablets and smartphones within which individual programme-related experiences are accessed. Sky’s second screen functionality is powered by zeebox and the new features mean:

    •    Viewers can connect to online communities around virtually every show on TV, across Sky and other channels

    •    Sky customers can interact more fully with content than ever before

    •    You can follow and contribute to online chat via an in-built Twitter feed

    •    Viewers can easily access a range of extra information related to the show they are watching. If a Sky customer wants to find out more about a particular actor in a drama, or buy a piece of music featured on a TV show’s soundtrack, they will be able to use the Sky+ app to find out more.

    These features add to existing functions like channel change, browsing the Sky+ planner and adding or deleting shows. It is because platform operators can gain our attention with these useful functions on tablets or smartphones that they have a head start if they want to go a step further and become the second screen gateway.

    Decipher, the media research and consulting firm, has just completed a study on second screen that tries to make sense of the developing ecosystem and audit the market. Managing Director Nigel Walley expects most platforms to provide a companion app with an EPG and recommendations. He adds: “We think the most logical app for a consumer to use is the one provided by the platform because that is the one that can be most closely integrated with the service proposition that comes through the set-top box.”

    We are probably going to witness a second screen land grab because media companies and advertisers want our simultaneous attention on all devices. It is early days and nobody seems to know exactly whose apps we are going to use but programme makers (in cooperation with broadcasters) could provide show-specific apps and broadcasters might offer a channel-wide app within which you can enjoy show-specific second screen experiences.

    It is widely expected that platform operators will attempt to provide their own umbrella app that leads to the channel or show related second screen experiences. Their success could rely on how closely this app can be integrated with the specially created, editorially driven interactive experiences show makers or channels are providing. A few of the many questions in this nascent market are how many shows will warrant second screen editorial budgets and of those, how many need their own app, and for those that don’t need their own app, can the second screen enrichment be created within an umbrella app (provided by a Pay TV operator or other third-party).

    zeebox, which is behind the Sky second screen app functionality, is ready and waiting to help broadcasters build second screen experiences within its environment if a show-specific app is not appropriate. Anthony Rose, Co-Founder and CTO at zeebox, says it would be crazy for consumers to download a new app for every channel and in the U.S. at least, a lot of broadcasters have concluded that building an app for a programme or even a channel is not sustainable. He thinks zeebox, which is an open apps development platform using HTML5, is the answer.

    “We offer tools in what we call ‘Mission Control’ and broadcasters can use these tools to create their enhancements for programmes. We will see this in the U.S. in the next few weeks and it will be a game-changer when people see how shows come to life,” he says. Rose believes that with broadcaster engagement you can create a single app for people to use across all TV, which is the model zeebox is pursuing as a consumer-facing app in the UK  (independently of its work with platform operators). Perhaps this points the way to what platform operators will do, as well.

    “A programme maker can have their brand up front,” Rose adds. “That is what we allow with our tools. You can skin the page and put your logo on it. We are creating a way for consumers to reach their programmes and a way for broadcasters to deliver to the consumer at lower cost and with HTML5 you can change the experience minute by minute.”

    Walley at Decipher thinks a platform operator can provide the gateway, even if it leads consumers to a dedicated, show-specific app created by the programme maker or broadcaster.  The ‘Got Talent’ shows are the kind of powerhouse live programming that deserve their own app. “But how do I know there is a Britain’s Got Talent app,” he asks. “If you are watching TV on your Sky box and you have the Sky app on the iPad and are watching Britain’s Got Talent, the BGT app could pop up. That is the logical place for ITV to advertise that it has an app. It is likely that the broadcaster will have to pay platforms to advertise their own apps through the EPG.”

    He concludes: “The platform apps will become the data rich gateway through which you can choose to experience the deeper interaction of the programme app.”

    Walley thinks platform operators can strengthen their apps by paying more attention to the functional side that got us using them in the first place. He recalls how operators took control from the TV set by giving their set-top box remote controls the ability to control TV on/off and volume. “That has been forgotten with the apps. Something people want on these apps right now is volume up and down and TV on and off. If we have those we are more likely to do the other stuff.”

    Editor’s comment:

    Nobody has the definitive definition of what second screen or companion screen means but we are working on the basis that companion screen means functions that enhance the main TV experience generally, whereas second screen means it is enhancing an actual programme you are watching, sometimes in complete synchronisation with the linear feed. So EPG or channel change on a tablet is ‘companion’ whereas looking at more information about an actor during the show, or Tweeting about it during the show is ‘second screen’ because you have entered the programme environment.

    The upgraded Sky+ iPad app is a good illustration, in our view, of where a platform operator has taken a companion screen app and layered on a second screen app! When you add those two things together you have the beginnings of an ‘umbrella app’. In our view (in terms of definitions) ‘umbrella app’ implies you have multiple second screen experiences within it, covering different channels as well as shows.

    More on this subject

    You can see in-depth video interviews with Anthony Rose and Nigel Walley via the links below. Filmed at IBC, they are discussing the emerging second screen apps ecosystem including the relative roles of different stakeholders. Rose also reveals how people are using zeebox nine months after the app was launched.

    Anthony Rose: What consumers do with their zeebox app

    Nigel Walley: Operator apps will be the gateway to second screen experiences

    If you are interested in second screen generally, but particularly in the potential for second screens to create green field advertising inventory, and what the industry can do with that and how the TV value chain could change, then check out our Future TV Advertising Forum in November. We have a complete session dedicated to the subject. View agenda here.

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