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The Rise of the Second Screen: Zeebox, GetGlue, Viggle, and More
Are companion apps the wave of the future or a passing fad? Here are the best tablet and smartphone apps for staying engaged while watching TV.

The kids are finally in bed, the volume level in the house has dropped to a non-rock concert level, and my wife and I settle into the couch. The HDTV in front of us switches from old episodes of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" on Netflix to something much more intellectually stimulating. "Duck Dynasty," perhaps, or "Iron Chef America"? It doesn’t really matter, because 30 seconds after we select a show to watch on the big screen, something interesting happens. On this particular night, my wife is working on her laptop while checking her iPhone for Facebook comments and funny cat videos. I have my iPad perched on the arm of the couch with a YouTube video playing while my iPhone occasionally interrupts with updates from Twitter. And while our experience may be on the geeky side of the early-adopter curve, this is more and more how the general public consumes content while watching TV. The second screen is a reality of modern-day life.
 
A recent Nielsen study showed that 41% of tablet owners and 38% of smartphone owners used their devices while also watching television at least once a day. And while this is only a slight increase in percentage from 2011, the number of tablets and smartphones has continued to grow. The same Nielsen study found usage of mobile devices has doubled since last year. All of this data continues to show that there are more people on more devices watching more and more overlapping content on their second screens. With users continuing to put up more screens in front of their TVs, more services, apps, and companies are flocking to provide relevant, supporting content and add value to what is happening on the primary screen. If 2011 was the eureka moment for second-screen viewing, then 2012 was the gold rush. So what are the categories and definitions that are emerging to support this second-screen revolution? Who are the players that are creating the best experiences? And what can we look forward to in 2013 in the second-screen arena?
 

Defining and Categorizing the Second Screen

 
It’s hard enough to identify what devices are considered primary screens these days, much less what a second screen looks like. And while I have tackled primary, secondary, and tertiary screen nomenclature in previous articles, I won’t get into whether a smartphone in front of a tablet is technically a second screen. For our collective sanity in this review, the primary screen is a TV and the secondary screen is a smartphone, tablet, or touchscreen.
 
A secondary screen can be a distracter pulling you away from the primary screen. An example of a distracter would be watching "Downton Abbey" when your phone buzzes and you read and respond to a work email for 2 minutes. Or the secondary screen can be an attractor providing supporting and relevant information that maintains engagement with the primary screen. An example of an attractor would be watching "Top Chef" while chatting with the stars and your friends in the Zeebox app on your tablet. In years to come, I’m sure we will look back with quaint fondness on the days when we only had two screens in our living room or office.
 
While the definition of a second screen has been simplified, it still leaves us with a variety of categories for attractors. Most of the attractors that we will look at in this review fall into three columns: social networks, second-screen apps, and companion content. Social networks have been used to support watching TV from their inception, and it’s no surprise that both Twitter and Facebook are popular attractors for interacting while viewing. The sheer size of both these platforms makes them attractive engagement tools, but that may also be their greatest weakness. It’s hard to maintain focus on just one viewing experience with all the noise on these networks. The need for more focused social networks just for viewing TV led to most of the second-screen apps we see now. Apps such as Zeebox and IntoNow from Yahoo! are allowing individuals to discover, interact, socialize, and share from their mobile devices while watching TV. And finally, we have companion content being developed by media companies, broadcasters, and networks to cash in on the second-screen gold rush. Some of the recent tools that have been developed in-house or created in white label partnerships represent the biggest names in the industry. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has launched Disney Second Screen, movie-specific iPad apps that sync up and provide additional content while you are watching a film on your TV. CBS has put out CBS Connect, its own tablet app that features interactive chat, audio syncing with live or taped content, and access to behind-the-scenes features to support its most popular shows. With the popularity of third-party social networks and apps, it’s certain we will see more companies creating their own stand-alone content to attract and engage audiences.
 

The Leaders

 
TWITTER
 
It’s hard to ignore the 900-pound birdie that Twitter has become in the second-screen playground. From humble microblogging beginnings, Twitter has emerged as the go-to tool for social TV. A recent partnership with Nielsen will create the first-ever social television measurement standards and provide even further social relevance for billions of dollars in TV ad revenue. In July Twitter aired its first TV ad, creating a specific hashtag page for #NASCAR and engaging millions of conversations between fans, drivers, sponsors, and networks. Integrated Twitter usernames and hashtags have become commonplace, crawling across the bottom of the TV, beckoning users to pull out their tablets or phones and join the conversation on their second screens. With a massive install base with one of the most popular social apps across multiple app stores, the ubiquity and simplicity of Twitter puts it at the top of the list of second-screen apps to watch. And while Facebook has more users, it also has more noise and distractions. Twitter still wins the current battle for the second screen as an attractor.
 
VIGGLE AND GETGLUE
 

GetGlue

In November of 2012, the two frontrunners in the social TV app space made tech headlines by announcing Viggle would be acquiring GetGlue. With a combined userbase of 4.3 million members, it would have solidified a clear leader in the second-screen app race. But after insufficient funds were raised to complete the deal, a retraction on the buyout was announced in mid-January 2013. The excitement around the possible deal created an additional flurry of activity for both Viggle and GetGlue, and although they are pushing forward as separate companies, neither one shows any sign of stopping.
 
Launched in 2007, GetGlue was one of the first successful entertainment check-in services, allowing users to discover new content and socialize around their favorite shows. GetGlue has built its second-screen empire by encouraging viewers to check in to their favorite shows, earn stickers and discounts, and chat along with live events. Content partners can also interact with viewers to provide additional videos, photos, and information. A recent post on GetGlue from "Family Guy" on FOX linked to an exclusive YouTube video showing a Monty Python-themed credit sequence. With vast social connections, GetGlue accounts tie in with Twitter, foursquare, Facebook, Last.fm, and just about everything else. A large component of the app also focuses on discovery, allowing users to find the most popular shows by the number of check-ins or what their friends are currently watching. With all the data-rich interactions they are capturing from their users, it’s no wonder content companies are clamoring to use these platforms or build their own.
 
Viggle was late to the party launching in 2012. Its unique model of paying people to watch content has driven it to the top of the must-watch list. Viggle is an app that uses audio verification to earn users points while they watch one of 170 partner channels. Users can then redeem those points for gift cards and real-world rewards. While GetGlue ruled the check-in space, it was Viggle that jumped onto the audio-recognition train. Using the Viggle app means that there is no cheating on the check-in. With actual verification that users are watching a show, Viggle offers real rewards to users and real numbers to content owners. Viggle has even launched its own companion apps for fantasy football and basketball under its MyGuy brand.
 
Both GetGlue and Viggle are the current app leaders for television discovery and socialization. It will be an interesting 2013 for both platforms to see if they can move past their botched merger to maintain and grow their second-screen dominance.
 

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