Idiot Boxes

control your set top box while you iron!

There is a lot of foam published about SmartTV, kindled by the furtive glance Apple has thrown toward TV with AppleTV, but also by enthusiastic technologists (technotheists) who believe screens inevitably lead to interactivity. Most recently, the hype is around "second screen" paradigms, combinations of TV and a tablet or smartphone or laptop that create a transcendant new experience, in most evocations, somehow social. I am skeptical.

The chance that innovations in TV platforms will change the way people watch TV is about the same as the chance improvements in wine packaging will change the way people drink wine. The box of wine in my fridge did not change the way I drink wine. The box is good. Wine in my kitchen is now more available, more convenient; I must no longer stretch or leash my appetite to accommodate the 750ml standard. But boxes do not much change the way I drink wine. Why not? Because wine is not about bottles or boxes, it's about the content. Having a second screen while I watch TV makes as much difference as a second glass while I drink wine.

Nielsen Connected Devices Study Q2 2012
Research shows 40% of viewers using a second screen simultaneously with their TV viewing. You will also find a significant number of viewers using their irons.

How many people use their smartphones in the cinema? If people did use their phones in the cinema, it would not signal a need for 2nd screen movie companion apps; it would signal a crap movie. Tablet use during TV viewing is a signal of crap TV.

There is a trend in media generally to disaggregation, if you look for it. Content is being unbundled, pulled from its container and freed for other uses. News articles are torn from newspapers; magazine articles are unbound from magazines; songs are dance away from albums; radio programs have been articulated into podcasts;  monolithic software applications are refactored into single function apps. RSS feeds and playlists allow us to create our own curated streams of disarticulated content
Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube have begun to disrupt TV content from programmed schedules. We need new models of discovery and curation.
For a start, we should be able to include YouTube channels in our settop zaplist.
Second Screens will have a use in content discovery, and disaggregation of TV content may lead to new forms of video media experience that involve large and small screens, but, for the medium term at least, I believe second screens will remain a side show.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.


  1. Mhm, the general assumption seems that content is consumed simultaneously on two screens. I think thats only partially true. 
    Of course one can look up plot, actors, directors, reviews ... via imdb or similar once the movie started. Viewers probably also check their social networks for 'news'. 
    But I think the 2nd screen is more and more becoming the source for content to be watched on the big screen. AirPlay does this already beautifully (Apple users don't need YouTube on set-top boxes) and there are various other solutions coming to the market that solve this problem for non-Apple users and mixed households. Like

  2. Maurice McGinley24 January, 2013 09:27

    2nd screens have promise during commercials and boring bits of TV. But this is already in place. And yes, there's more to be done before and between viewing, with a convenient transition from small to big screen.
    Plair does look interesting. I see Plair as an example of disaggregation of TV platform: "tuner" moves to mobile. 

  3. Hmm What I read is in fact that you agree to the statement that second (or third) screens are changing the way we watch TV. It is just the way the message is packaged. 

    The way I perceive the second screen is that it is caused by the fact that people tend to do use a second screen to do parallel activities, possibly because TV content might be crap, but it is entirely possible it is because the social interaction styles are changing (mind you this is not a quality judgement). So there are whole generations who are simultaneously engaging in situe as well as remote, on the topic.This is because watching TV on the big screen is often a 'compromise' social activity. The second screen in fact can oil this situation, allowing people to partake in the same TV watching experience whilst having their own side activity without leaving the setting.Now it appears to me that the drive for second screen content is coming from this finding. Researchers have found that people are using second screens and that TV watching is changing, less 'big screen TV watching' is taking place, i.e. content is rated less and valued less commercially. My assumption is that some smart content creators have used this second platform to parallel engage with the viewers giving them a platform on a second screen. The intention is clearly to bind them to their content. Which is strengthened because the second screen can be used in more locations than just tied to the Big TV screen. In other word generating a continuous link to the content. Think about how fans follow their stars.

    On the opposite side of the equation is 'the ironing example'. I think this is a completely different issue, yet also serves a distinct need of the user. The underlying goal of the user is entirely different, i.e. ironing (or any other menial chore). There the user is in fact primarily engaged in another activity where the TV is 'the second screen', the distractor to the mind at tedious chores. This is not the same.

    Nevertheless I do agree with the statement that true improvements and innovations to TV experience will come through different content, not by simply adding more screens or competing activities. I believe this is already happening. It is just the marketing message and the humdrum that is clouding the message. Content experiences are changing.


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