TV is Not the First or Second Screen – it is THE Screen

A recent article published on Gigaom has been seeing a lot of circulation on ‘the Twitters’ the last few days: ““. While the author – who has a terrific series on cord-cutting – makes some valid points, I found his core rationale to be completely off base.

Let’s examine our pre-conceived notions about what is a “TV”. Is it the large screen hanging on our living room wall or is it simply the viewing window through which we are watching broadcaster programming – of which the latter can change regularly for a single consumer?

His biggest argument is that since so many people multi-task on other devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets) the TV itself is no longer the primary focal point in the room, making the other device the main screen. He also mentions that people should stop making second screen apps to interact with TV and focus more on building ways to let users embrace TV on whichever device they choose – ok, this I partially agree with. I’ll explain.

watching tv readingMulti-tasking while watching television did not magically form with the advent of the smartphone, tablet, or laptop. People have been multi-tasking since the TV was created. Sure this was originally in the form of magazines, books, talking on the phone, or playing card/board games, but it was still multi-tasking or distracted viewing. Today, that distracted viewing will often take place with a companion device, but may not necessarily be in a “social TV” or “second screen” context – more on that distinction can be found here.  Those magazines weren’t considered the primary screen back then, so neither should the electronic device in someone’s hand while the television is turned on today.

The TV is neither the first or the second screen, it is simply a screen. To be more specific, TV is the screen you are using at that precise moment to consume programming. The screen in the living room or bedroom known as the traditional television isn’t necessarily first or second or even third. It’s just there when you choose to use it. MVPDs and networks alike are creating apps and platforms for the viewing audience to consume shows and movies across a multitude of devices. These come in the form of apps on handheld devices like smartphones or tablets and through connected peripheral devices like the Xbox or Roku – which are displayed on the TV. Let’s not forget the apps built into the TV sets themselves like the Samsung SmartTV platform and, of course, directly into the TV through the MVPD box itself. The “TV Everywhere” movement is already here and even the Nielsen ratings have been modified to count viewers consuming shows outside the traditional MVPD piped box. We’re now in a multi-screen television world where as long as the content is consumed on a screen (within certain parameters specific to the ratings systems) that’s really all that matters.

tv ipad viewing content“Watching TV” is nothing more than watching content in the form of shows or movies. When that phrase was coined, the only device to view that content was on a traditional television screen. If a user is viewing TV content on a mobile device, the mobile device for definition purposes would be a television. That sounds like a ridiculous statement because we’ve moved beyond those dated concepts of what exactly a TV really is. Today, it’s a screen to view content. Generally, it also happens to be the largest viewing screen in a home environment which is why it is used most often to watch programming – even though tablet viewing of programming in the home is common.

With all of these potential options available to watch “TV”, viewers will choose whichever screen is the most convenient and relevant to meet their viewing needs for that particular moment. If that screen is the primary traditional television screen, users will more often than not multi-task on another device. There is plenty of data to support this which has been shared across the web ad nauseam – I’ve collected a lot of it on this Pinterest board if you want to track some down. These alternate secondary devices and more importantly, the behaviors on those devices, can be related to the programming being viewed on the primary content delivery screen which could be a television or even a tablet or PC (yes, I’ve tweeted about a show on my smartphone while watching it on my tablet – in this case the “TV” was my tablet). It is in those behaviors where what should be considered “second screen” terminology actually comes into play – learn more about this terminology in the 2nd Screen Society lexicon.

Contrary to what the author of the Gigaom article states, there is still very much a relevant market and usefulness for 3rd party developers, networks, MVPDs, and more to play in the “second screen” space. This should NOT be confused with the need to continue evolving the TV everywhere consumption platforms. Second screen companion viewing content can be merged with TV everywhere delivery (HBO Go is an example), but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. MVPDs and networks can embrace TV everywhere without forgoing the need to develop engaging social and companion viewing experiences to be viewed on “second screen” devices. MVPDs and networks need to continue their TV everywhere efforts to enhance and find new ways to deliver programming to viewers that will best meet the needs of the on the go multi-screen generation. Second screen related initiatives should also continue to be a priority in order to provide viewers more opportunities to interact and engage with programming to provide a more entertaining experience.

Is “TV” the first or second screen or is it just a screen? For me, the answer doesn’t come from the electronic hardware itself; it is rooted in the behavior taking place by the viewer at that precise moment regardless of whatever distraction – planned or unplanned – is vying for their attention on another screen. No matter the number assigned to the primary content viewing screen, there is still a need to focus efforts on expanding interactive content beyond the passive viewing experience. While this may or may not inevitably consolidate to a single viewing window, the companion device still has a place and serves a purpose for today’s viewer.

image source: Wikimedia, TabTimes