‘Television and the Second Screen’

Although there is a developing academic and technical literature about specific aspects of second screen media production and engagement (to which we hope 2-IMMERSE is making a useful contribution), there are as yet few publications that attempt to step back and survey the field. Part of the problem in doing so, of course, is that the field, like so many other aspects of today’s media world is extraordinarily protean, seemingly changing from day to day. Moreover, the process of book publishing means that volumes risk being out of date even as they appear.

James Blake’s study Television and the Second Screen: Interactive TV in the Age of Social Participation, however, which was published by Routledge in November 2016, remains valuable for its history, thoughtful analysis and television industry insights. Before becoming an academic at Edinburgh Napier University, Blake worked for 20 years as a television reporter and producer, and his perspective is largely that of a broadcast professional, and he is primarily concerned with the ways in which social participation on mobile devices in changing the previously dominant forms of creation and consumption. Most of the examples are drawn from British television, although there are comparisons drawn with programmes from other European countries and from the USA. Blake is especially concerned with the debate about second screen activity as ‘distraction’ from television, and the consequences that this may have for traditional programme forms and funding structures. But he quotes Dan Biddle, Head of Broadcast Partnerships at Twitter UK in 2014:

It’s not split attention, it’s actually double attention. People are looking at everything at the same time, and we’ve got data that shows that people who are tweeting and watching TV are far more engaged with the messages that come out of those TV shows.

Overall, there’s much in his study, which is based on interviews with some 25 practitioners, that is fruitful for anyone working in or studying the convergence of second screens¬† with conventional television. Each of the book’s chapters also has a bibliography referencing a wide range of sources, many of which are freely available online.

Blake begins with an interesting if rather too sketchy (at least about the 1950s and ’60s) chapter about the history of interactive television, before digging deeper into the industry’s construction of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ audiences. He considers the motivations that researchers have identified for why we watch television and the ways in which the broad categories clustering under the ‘uses and gratifications’ theory have shifted and developed. The third chapter considers the television forms where interactivity has been successful, including play-along interaction (the main case study is Channel 4’s Million Pound Drop), integrated audience activity (The X Factor) and transmedia storytelling (Big Brother). There is also a consideration of some of the problems and challenges that these forms have thrown up: the difficulties of broadcast delay, cheating and getting the balance right between first and second screen experiences.

Chapter 4 considers issues about second screen media and news programming, looking especially at the coverage of the 2015 General Election and the Scottish Referendum. While this is interesting much of it feels somewhat behind the curve given developments especially in the United States about Russian intervention via Twitter and Facebook. In the next chapter there is a very useful summary of a range of initiatives by the BBC and Channel 4 to develop second screen projects alongside factual programming, including for the Springwatch cluster of shows and Big Blue Live in 2015. Drama is the focus of Chapter 6, where Blake explores multi-platform transmedia storytelling for Coronation Street, Sherlock and a number of US series.

Perhaps of most relevance to 2-IMMERSE is the chapter that consider televised sports and the second screen, at the London Olympics 2012, for the rugby Six Nations and World Cup, and horse racing. As Blake observes, ‘The proliferation of mobile platforms and second screen apps has created opportunities to develop new categories of rights.’ But there are other important aspects of commercialisation as well, including betting and fantasy sports games. As for advertisers, Blake explores how ‘the second screen is both a golden opportunity and an escalating threat.’

What next? Or at least, what did the author think might be next 18 months back? One key question remains pertinent: ‘could the second screen go the way of 3D TV?’ Is there an enduring appeal to the experiences that have been, and will be, developed. Then there are the likely impacts of 360 video and VR. Add to which are questions about funding, regulation. But Blake is upbeat in his conclusion:

TV viewers now expect genuine two-way interaction. This is a genie that, once released, can’t easily be put back into its bottle. So whatever the future holds for television viewing, it will involve mobile and social engagement and be designed to encourage genuine viewer participation.