As a continuation from a couple of recent posts, I wanted to take a closer look at another 2013 Emmy nomination in the Best Interactive Program category: “The Team Coco Sync Multi-Screen Experience” from TBS. The two nominees I previously covered are Showtime’s “Homeland SHO Sync Experience” and the HBO “Game Of Thrones Season Three Enhanced Digital Experience.” In similar fashion, I will examine this app under the lens of how it holds up against four key second screen criteria: Control, Discovery, Sharing, and Enhancement.
First off, I want to point out that the second screen sync experience is part of the general Team Coco app which serves a variety of purposes including, but not not limited to, the synced content. For this review, I will discuss the synced area, but will also cover other areas of the app as they relate to the benchmark criteria.
Control: The Team Coco app is not integrated with any MVPD set-top boxes so the app itself does not serve as a way to interact with the television directly. It does, however, function as a connected TV viewing device letting users view full episodes of the show. Users have the ability to watch the episodes on the tablet with or without the bonus synced second screen content feed. When both synced and full episode content are viewed together, the screen is split. Use of the available space in this mode is efficient when the tablet is held in portrait, but wastes a lot of space when in landscape mode where the episode window area is reduced to a non-prominent size.
Discovery: If you’re looking for a one-stop shop to enjoy all things Conan, then this app is your place to discover a plethora – yes a plethora – of photos, videos, musical guests, and more. Also housed in this experience is the variety of content produced by “Team Coco”, which doesn’t appear on the show, but is featured on the various TC social properties and site. One of the most important call-outs on the app is located prominently on the main screen, the advertisement for the next episode featuring a countdown clock and even the ability to set a notification reminder to encourage tune-in. The app is peppered with advertisement placements for partners, but does little to promote other TBS shows relevant to this audience. The network does have its own Watch TBS app designed as a connected viewing repository for all of its programming, including Conan, but focuses primarily on full episodes only. Conan fans who want a much broader content experience will need to download this app.
Sharing: There are two ways in which fans can interact socially with the synced episode second screen experience: conversing and sharing content cards. Neither of which provide any value as they are built today. The Team Coco app has opted to build a social conversation system to exist within the walled garden of the app rather than integrate existing channels and present them in such a way to provide value to the user. The Team Coco app does not integrate other social channels where plenty of conversation is already happening around the show. Instead, the commentary presented during the synced experience is only from those folks using the app, which isn’t a large chatty audience. Coincidentally enough, the Falling Skies app on TNT, their sister network, has a similar commentary system which isn’t ideal there either - read more about that here.
I have a lot of friends who love Conan and discuss the episodes on other channels outside the app. If I want to use the synced experience as my second screen, I would need a third screen just to keep up with what they are saying. In my testing of the Team Coco app, the conversation was dominated by a single rambling person whom I could not hide from the feed. Ideally, a social integration system would be built leveraging other APIs to allow a user to customize a list of friends, show/cast official feeds, and more. Network branded experiences for some reason fall into this mentality where they try and re-invent a conversation system. Rather than take this approach, they need to leverage existing social networks to enhance the conversation by bringing value to using the app by tailoring it to meet the needs of the audience.
When the synced experience is viewed on the app with the full episode, the synced content presented is only that which originated from the show. There is no conversation synced feed, which is a good choice given this viewing is going to be in a delayed time-shifted environment where conversation isn’t really necessary to the experience. When viewing only synced content on the app while you are watching the TV feed on a separate primary screen, you do receive the commentary from other users synced to the feed regardless of whether you are viewing the live broadcast or on demand.
The other sharing element of the synced second screen experience is the content cards produced by the show. These cards feature photos, gifs, videos, trivia, and more. Users have the option to share these content elements to Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, when these are shared, the only information that is populated in the share copy is the title of the content element. That funny gif a user wants to share with their friends and social networks really isn’t funny, or useful, without a link to the actual gif. Also, the pre-populated share copy doesn’t even include the official show hashtag, essentially doing nothing to further the social conversation and create additional exposure for the show. This simple and rather obvious problem found in the sharing of content cards without actually including the content that prompted the share exists on numerous network branded apps including TNT’s Falling Skies and HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Social conversation and sharing of the content in the app that doesn’t just need to be modified, it needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up.
Enhancement: Again, the second screen synced content feed offers a variety of show produced elements including gifs, trivia, polls, and more. The content is synced to the broadcast using the microphone on the device through a process called Audio Content Recognition. ACR can be a bit tricky depending on background noise and can sometimes create minor delays versus pairing of the app through a local internet connection – common practice for Blu-Ray disc based movie second screen experiences or those found in connected peripheral devices like SmartGlass on Xbox Live. The ACR timing of the synced function on the Conan app works quite nicely and populates these bonus elements in their appropriate spots of the show. The cards are a good enhancement, but as previously mentioned, the social commentary that accompanies the feed and the sharing of the content is not optimal and needs to be reworked.
The synced content feed is peppered with advertisement banners, but they aren’t actual advertisers. They are ads to drive users to view additional Team Coco produced video clips. What I noticed during my testing was that these advertisements will often surface in the sync during commercial breaks. The synced experience will also regularly produce content cards featuring video clips of Conan from other episodes and from Team Coco. I find it odd that the app would want to drive users to view video content to take their attention away from the TV during advertiser paid commercials. This move is especially strange considering Turner recently released findings that stated 48% of the time viewers see a branded in-app advertisement synced with a TV ad they pay more attention to it. This method of driving users to view Conan videos during TV advertisements seems to be the exact opposite to what they recommend. Sure it might keep a user in their seat during the commercial break, but if they aren’t paying attention to the TV ad then it doesn’t really matter.
The Team Coco Sync Multi-Screen Experience from TBS is an excellent app for viewing full episodes and browsing the massive amount of content that Team Coco produces. For shows with this volume of information, it is a great industry example of giving fans access to every aspect of the show. As a second screen content and social TV conversation app, this experience fails to deliver on several basic level functional elements that are necessary for a well rounded experience. Until the experience improves, fans are better off simply picking up their Twitter app to use during the show broadcast and leverage this branded app if they are watching it in a time-shifted environment.
[All images were personally screen-grabbed from the iPad app.]