At the end of April, The CW became the most recent network to launch an app for the Xbox Live platform. They join a rather limited club with only a handful of other networks like HBO, Fox, and Syfy having their own dedicated apps. With all of the recent hype surrounding the reveal of the new Xbox One and its position to strive to be “the” home entertainment hub, you have to figure there will be other networks following with their own builds before the launch date (expected at the end of this year).
With 46 million users worldwide accessing the Xbox Live platform, there certainly is plenty of reach for networks to get their shows in front of new and existing viewers. The Leichtman Research group found that 44% of U.S. households have at least one TV connected to the Internet with the overwhelming majority of those connections coming from peripheral devices like an Xbox. Of those consumers who watch OTT delivered content, 33% do so daily and 59% on a weekly basis. Even brands like Pizza Hut are trying to tap into the Xbox consumer base with their new app on the platform where users can order pizzas complete with social sharing. Remember that these gaming consoles are connected devices with access to social networks. Burst Media found that approximately 7% of social media users accessed their social networks through their gaming console. That number should continue to grow as the evolution of the Xbox as an entertainment hub shifts to allow for more prevalent social discovery into the core of the system. With such a large user base and the OTT consumption trend growing, why aren’t more networks creating Xbox Live experiences for their shows?
Regardless of the reason for hesitation by other networks, The CW has identified the OTT viewing trend and the potential of getting their content in front of the massive Xbox Live audience. Xbox wasn’t their first extension into the world of connected TV viewing. Last March, The CW Network released a series of mobile apps on iOS (iPhone & iPad) and Android to let users stream the last 5 episodes of their show line-ups on demand. They also took the cable TV network world by surprise when they started offering all of these shows on those devices for free without the need of cable authentication. This is still a unique concept for a paid cable channel even a year after their market launch.
How are the apps? From a discovery standpoint, the coupling of all their shows onto a single app provides an excellent opportunity to cross-expose fans to other CW shows. The iPad version, with its larger canvas, does a much better job of this with their smaller video viewing window (capable of full screen expansion) amidst the additional content exploration areas. The layout concept doesn’t quite deliver the functionality though. For example, if a user is watching an episode or video in the smaller content window, there is no capability to use the right area of the screen to view social networks, explore behind the scenes photos, or consume additional information. The social sharing page of the app is also rather limited in its functionality offering only a CW produced merger of all their show feeds and cast members without giving the user any filtering controls. The social feeds are also not customizable with hashtags or other ways to follow conversations not originating from official CW channels. It is also surprising that none of the mobile apps offer second screen enhanced viewing content synced during the broadcast. Even during the streaming episodes available the day after the broadcast there is no synced content experience – similar to HBO’s release of those features only in the HBO GO streaming version. While discovery and access to episodes and bonus content are there today, the app could use a re-working of the viewing portal functionality as well as a more robust social conversation hub and second screen synced content experience.
While the mobile and tablet apps may not have second screen viewing content, the CW is using the Xbox Live platform to begin experimenting in this space. To do this, they are leveraging the Xbox SmartGlass app available on smartphones and tablets. SmartGlass originally launched as purely a utility tool to allow users to control their Xbox systems using the app, but they have been expanding into bringing companion viewing content to the devices as well. The beauty of the Xbox SmartGlass second screen content is that the app itself doesn’t require audio based syncing since the app is connected over your internet connection. The CW Network rolled out a test of the synced content with an episode of their hit show The Vampire Diaries which was also tied to a Facebook contest to help further promote the new offering. At this time, there are no other episodes available with synced content, but expect more from The CW in the future. Overall, the Xbox Live CW app doesn’t differ much in the way of content from what is available on the mobile and table apps. Much like in those apps, they have continues with their strategy of showing the 5 most recent episodes per show without the need for cable authentication – also unique to the Xbox Live platform. The layouts are slightly different in the Xbox version to accommodate the difference in canvas style and there is currently no social integration. It would make sense that as The CW is developing new synced second screen content for the Xbox Live app that they will also revise their smartphone and iPad apps to deliver the same synced content experience. Hopefully, for those devices they will deliver it not only in the streaming content version, but will expand it to the original broadcast as well.
The CW Network is doing the right thing by expanding their connected TV viewing strategy to the Xbox Live platform and other networks should be exploring the same. Creating a second screen viewing experience within the Xbox SmartGlass experience is smart as it does provide the right balance of remote utility with perfectly synced content delivery, but evolving that enhanced viewing to their proprietary apps should be a focus for the network as well. In general, the few networks that are playing in the Xbox Live space are doing so as a re-skinning of the same strategy from their mobile network apps. While this porting strategy may be an easy way to test the waters, it is not taking full advantage of what the Xbox Live experience could be for them. The audience is there, the platform is robust, it’s time networks begin to invest resources into differentiating themselves from their competitors by providing the ultimate viewer Xbox Live engagement portal for fans.