What does the second screen really mean?

By Lewis Blackwell |

July 24, 2013 | 5 min read

Lewis Blackwell attempts to set aside his dislike of ‘the second screen’ as he explores the evolution of the concept with Jon Block of ITV, Shazam’s Miles Lewis and Dave Coplin from Microsoft.

There’s often much to dislike about the terms the marketing business coins to describe a new wheeze/exciting new concept that will change civilisation as we know it.

One of those terms is ‘the second screen’. Given my feelings, I’m a natural to chair a panel on the topic. At least, I have a bigoted position and enough ignorance to scrape away at the topic and see whether it is shiny or bleeding at the end.

And so chair a panel on ‘Brands and the Second Screen’ is what I did for The Drum Live. Thanks to Jon Block (ITV’s controller of commercial digital products), Miles Lewis (VP of ad sales at Shazam) and Dave Coplin from Bing/Microsoft, I was surrounded by some smart folk who knew a lot more than I when it came to answering ‘whither second screen?’.

But first, let’s get that prejudicial feeling out there. I dislike ‘second screen’ because, a) it presumes that TV might be the first screen, when this is not necessarily the case, and b) it shapes our perception of the content that can be linked between devices.

At one level, clearly we need those blinkers. If like Jon Block you’re from commercial television then you may be inclined and obliged to view the potential of alternative media in terms of friend or foe for your medium. Your focus must be on devising smart opportunities to interact and extend your brands, and those of your advertisers, into the phones or tablets lurking around the viewer’s sofa and so help capture the eyeballs, fingers and finance.

If you are from the new world order of Shazam, as with Miles Lewis, where perhaps 300 million users enjoy its music recognition app (many being led to buy music through it), you are more sanguine about TV. But you still have a great interest in taking a share of more traditional advertising and are interested in a linked service that can extend the on-TV content to revenue generation through your interactive service. This may inadvertently help defend the TV medium and its sense of being the first screen, so still somewhat ‘second screen’ in its logic.

It fell to my panellist from Microsoft, a visionary from Banbury who would have much to discuss with the oracle of Delphi, to get away from the immediate business potential of second screen and instead muse more ecstatically on the potential connectedness of all things. Or at least all things media.

As Microsoft UK’s chief envisioning officer, Dave Coplin has an enviable and challenging job. Enviable because he can think very big thoughts, while also challenging because that kind of thinking can fly off into the blue sky and never come back down. And if it does come back down it is sometimes like a deflated balloon, a shrivelled spent husk of its original promise.

But Coplin’s vision flies confidently. He draws us away from being overly ‘second’ about our screen-thinking. The opportunity, as he puts it, is to link the interactive experience through any appropriate media. That could be books, or other print, with digital. That could, and should, be sound and image. Indeed, anything sensory can link. The potential for that in retail becomes rather wonderful in time as touch and scent are engaged more fully in our interactions. In a recent article Coplin wrote: “For brands, the challenge will be ensuring that the consumer journey is stitched together in a relevant, contextual way.”

He didn’t push that point home, but left its implications tantalisingly in the air. But as a second screen sceptic I will make a more pointed remark. It strikes me – in a week when I am again impressed and learning from the continued growth of ASOS – that there is a very clear first-screen that all brands must situate themselves around sooner or later, and that is the hand-held personal screen. That might be as a phone, or tablet, or some in-betweeny thing. It seems to be stating the obvious, but apparently not.

The simple logic is that if you are customer-centric, then the screen that is the extension of the customer is the starting point for the connection and the content. A personal screen-enabled customer is increasingly the building block of customer knowledge, of data, of marketing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you spend much or most of your budgets there today, or even tomorrow, but you do devise your thinking around this emerging definition of most customers in the world.

For certain, it means we stop saying ‘second screen’ when we mean ‘first-screen’.


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