M&E Daily

Creating the ‘Killer’ 2nd Screen App: What Do Audiences Value the Most?

By Terence Keegan

There may never be a single standard for what a second screen app should look like, or what functions it should serve — and that’s a good thing, judging from the range of entertainment company perspectives at last week’s 2nd Screen Summit.

Perspectives and opinions also vary over what features and quality attributes are essential for a “killer” second screen app. In other words, what do home entertainment audiences ultimately value — consciously or not — in a second screen experience?

During the 2nd Screen Summit’s panel discussion on app development, Paulette Pantoja, founder and chief executive of quality assurance firm BluFocus, stressed that ease of use is of paramount importance when conceiving of an app’s user experience.

“We can’t test users’ patience,” Pantoja said, noting that ease of use is a hallmark of the media and entertainment industry’s most successful consumer products, from Apple’s first-generation iPod to Google’s search service.

But ease of use may have its limits as a competitive advantage in home entertainment services, said fellow panelist Alan Wolk of video management software and services company KIT Digital. The pioneering TiVo DVR had a “far superior user experience” to digital video recorders offered by cable operators, Wolk noted, but companies such as Comcast eventually offered consumers a simpler model — the DVR “came as part of the [cable operator’s] set-top box” – and consolidated their market position accordingly.

Panelists agreed that a “killer” second screen app would embody other features — although they differed with each other over which feature would be indispensable. For Matt Berry of video discovery technology company Digitalsmiths, killer second screen apps will function as information management tools, enabling consumers to “connect” to various types of digital content. BluFocus’s Pantoja agreed that “connectivity is everything” for second screen apps, with the consumer’s ability to “connect anytime, anywhere” offering entertainment companies monetization opportunities outside of the living room as well.

Thomas Engdahl, a video delivery entrepreneur and former Comcast executive, offered “fun” as a key component to killer second screen apps: “something that makes the experience more enjoyable.” Ease of navigation, Engdahl said, can go hand in hand with enjoyability.

KIT Digital’s Wolk said that “seamlessness” with first screen programming (e.g., TV shows) was crucial for second screen apps. Randy Shiozaki, co-founder of “companion” app developer TVplus, agreed, adding that killer apps cannot thrive until second screen business models exist for TV industry stakeholders including production companies, program distributors, networks, and advertisers.

App development for the second screen, Shiozaki summed, “has to move beyond ‘bolt-on.’”