Syfy launched their “Syfy Now” on demand streaming app last August. The latest version of the app, which launched at the end of January, added an interesting new feature taking the connected TV mobile app to a higher level: Live TV Streaming. Syfy Now isn’t the network’s only TV app. A few months before the Now launch, Syfy rolled out one of the first network second screen sync apps to support multiple shows called “Syfy Sync”. So how do they perform? As with other app second screen and connected TV app reviews on this site, let’s examine them in the context of 4 categories: Control, Discovery, Sharing, and Enhancement.
Control: The apps are not integrated into any MVPD set-top boxes so neither serve as an alternate remote control, but cable authentication is required to view episode and live streaming content in the Syfy Now app (non-episode content is available to everyone). Navigation in both Syfy Now and Sync are very clean and easy to use. Now users can add watch alert reminders, save items to a watch list, and resume playback for content they didn’t finish. iOS device owners can use iCloud to view those stored content viewed/saved elements across multiple devices. Previously viewed content and the watch list is not accessible on those devices when viewing content on the web, on the Xbox live app, or on demand through MVPD set top boxes though. The live TV streaming update to the Syfy Now app is very clear with virtually no distortion, really quite impressive in the audio-video quality. Control of content in the Sync app can be cycled through manually or delivered automatically at the right moment through ACR (audio content recognition) which is responsive and functions whether the viewer is watching live, DVR, disc, or on-demand.
Discovery: The Sync app is not currently geared toward exposure of other network show content – although in the case of Defiance, the second screen app does allow for discovery of the transmedia connection to the game – read more about the Defiance multi-platform storytelling experience here. The Now app is stocked full of clips, trailers, and behind the scenes featurettes to allow for exploration of other shows. This same content also matches the Xbox Live and Roku app experiences although those apps still do not contain full episode content, which is surprising given Now has been available on iOS for over 6 months. Watching shows through the live TV streaming currently switches to Syfy promo commercials only during network breaks in the programming. While this is great for discovery of other Syfy programs, I would imagine this will eventually evolve to include advertising partners as is the case with the on demand viewing content.
Sharing: Sharing in the Syfy Now app is relatively limited, currently offering only the ability to send Twitter and Facebook updates to let others know you are watching an episode or clip with a link to download the the app from iTunes or Play. Given the same content is available on the web, directing folks to the specific location on the site where that content exists with an app prompt on the destination page would be a more useful experience. To encourage viewers in the sync app, Syfy states it offers exclusive content so the lack of ability to share those content cards is logical – although giving the viewers some way to expose the information to friends is needed to help encourage more downloads. The Sync app is where Syfy has placed the social feed stream, consisting of limited ability to view/write content to Twitter and Facebook as well as checking in to shows on GetGlue (now TVtag). Given the Sync app only works for a few shows and Now is a much broader app, I was surprised to not see at least some form of social network stream integration into that experience. In general, social integration (content and sharing) is by far the weakest of the four evaluation criteria and is currently a sub-optimal experience on both app experiences.
Enhancement: The Sync app’s primary focus is enhancement of the primary screen viewing featuring fun polls, bonus content, gifs, and trivia, so it makes sense this is the area where the app excels. For fans looking to dive deeper into their favorite Syfy shows, this is the place to do it. I would argue this type of DVD bonus style content is nice to have, but not critical to the full viewing experience. Sadly, this is a problem with the current state of just about all network scripted show second screen apps which I explore in more detail here. While this second screen app does fall into that category, I will say that Syfy has been groundbreaking in their use of the Defiance game to tell a multi platform story narrative for that show – which is the best form of enhancement the network has going for it to date. The Now app does little in the form of enhancing the viewing experience outside of teaser clips and featurettes. What would help here is the integration of the sync content into the Now experience as an optional feature – similar to the second screen and connected viewing combination found in the HBO GO app with Game of Thrones.
Overall, both of the apps do an acceptable job at their intended roles, but there is plenty of room for improvement. When Syfy Now launched, I figured supporting separate sync and streaming apps would be a temporary solution. Six months later there is still no word that the two will be merged. The elements that each of the apps provide in isolation would be complete in a combined scenario, not to mention promotion of a single app would be easier to market and understand from a viewer perspective. Rolling out full episode viewing on peripheral connected viewing devices, like Xbox and Roku, should be given priority as well to enable more users to access Syfy episodes and movies when and where they want. Lack of seamless transition across all platforms regarding on demand viewing is also a problem in the current version of Now. While iCloud keeps the iPhone and iPad up to date with Now viewing, the on demand viewing watched through the MVPD set top box and on the web is currently not tracked. This is a problem that no network has successfully solved, but it should be quite doable to fix using the metadata, given the authentication required to view the content.
At present, the Now app only includes its current show episode line-up and not previous shows like Battlestar or their original movies (sorry Sharknado fans). Expanding it to a larger catalog is likely in the works as it is most definitely needed. The same problem exists in the Sync app with only a small handful of shows currently available. I have to say I was very surprised to not find a Second Screen Sync Experience for the new Syfy show Helix as the narrative and audience would be ideal for one.
Syfy is an industry leader in engaging viewers with multiple platform experiences and their current digital offering line-up is comparable to that of their competitors (in some cases even exceeds). That being said, there are quite a few minor tweaks to properly align the platforms to create a more unified and enhanced screen experience. I’ve been impressed with what Syfy has accomplished to date and look forward to seeing what more they have in store for us in 2014.
[All images were personally screen-grabbed from the iPad/iPhone apps & photographed.]