Special Feature


Adding a second screen to TV watching may seem superfluous at first, but the way companies are engaging audiences is breathing new life into the once seemingly unsophisticated act of television viewing.

Television is as old as it can be. The first television sets came into existence in their crude, experimental forms in the 1920’s. The act of watching TV is also ancient, and it’s no surprise that it has become as popular as it is nowadays, considering its history of entertainment that won it a spot in the living rooms of most families around the world. In America, during the 1950’s, the primary way to influence public opinion was through the monochrome moving images from these big, bulky, mostly wooden boxes. It wasn’t until the 60’s when color was added to these images in the US and other developed countries. But when politicians and other activists were not using this medium to sway people’s interests, other companies and entrepreneurs saw the entertainment potential of television. Such interest led to the creation of media storage devices and prerecorded shows, using VCR tapes in the 70’s, DVDs in the 90’s and, in more re-cent times, high-definition Blu-Ray discs.

The advent of digital television was also a great boon for the industry. Compared to its analog counterpart, digital television allowed producers to transmit their shows in multiplexed and digitally processed signals. This revolutionary invention, in turn, spawned many of the services that we currently enjoy, from high-definition TV, a great number of TV channels to choose from, to even providing other, non-TV related services, such as multimedia content and interactivity. This last one I mentioned is of particular interest, because while other inventions improve the overall image quality, or the availability of channels, interactive TV actually revolutionizes the way we watch television: most providers operate by providing quality entertainment to their viewers, and by selling advertisement spaces to anyone that needs to send a message or advertise a product, which means that the user’s role in the programming is irrelevant – they are provided with shows and ads, and said programs obey a strict storyline created by the producers and writers. Interactive TV aims to change all that.

There are various types of interactive media, the first and most basic being simple interactions with a TV; for example, using a remote to change channels and adjust volume – this one has been around for quite some time already. The real TV interactivity starts when the viewer is able to influence the story of a show. This one is the most challenging to produce, as it would require the filming of various possible scenarios in any given show, to accommodate the possible decisions the audience will make throughout the story. Several shows, such as Accidental Lovers and Big Brother 8 have already implemented this interactivity, with moderate to great success. Other ways to interact with TV content is with the use of a tablet or smartphone, which allows the audience to vote on a poll about a variety of shows and consult the statistics in real time.

These are all great in their own right; however, the interaction they offer can be somewhat crude, cumbersome, and more of a novelty than an actual practical tool. The particular thing about technology is that it’s ever-changing and constantly evolving to accommodate further improvement, and interactive TV is no exception.

In a technological phenomenon commonly referred to as the Second Screen, big companies like Apple, Google, and Sync are revolutionizing the ways interactive TV works, as well as its usefulness as a tool for advertisement and sales. Instead of focusing on creating shows which may or may not work, these companies are creating new and improved methods through which interactive TV can be used to boost sales and give the viewers an easy and practical way to view their shows, as well as purchase advertised products.

In the past, TV ads would entice viewers to head to the nearest market/shop/drugstore to purchase whatever product they were promoting. Nowadays, TV Commerce (T-Commerce) allows you to purchase anything you see on your interactive TV with the click of a button – such is the reality with Apple’s tvOS. Have you ever watched a character from your favorite show and wondered where you could buy the wristwatch he’s using (or maybe his cool baseball cap)? Or perhaps you could compete against other people around the world in a live TV competition. Apple makes that a reality with their new interactive TV platform.

Sync is also hot on Apple’s trail, offering a new way to experience TV ads: their advertisement platform called Sync2AD allows you to use your tablet or mobile device to receive periodic ads related to the show on screen. Instead of interrupting the transmission with pesky pauses, you can get the ads directly on your tablet. This is good because – besides sparing the viewers from being constantly interrupted – advertisers can really engage the audience with relevant publicity, even during crucial parts of a show. Imagine watching a movie, and during sad or dramatic moments and scenes, you get an ad on your tablet for Kleenex tissues – cleverly convenient, right?

This Second Screen of interactive TV is still very new; meaning some providers will nail it, while others will inevitably still create subpar content. It will remain this way until certain industry standards are set.

In any case, with the Second Screen, the future of interactive media is as bright as it’s ever been – only time will tell where this wild ride will take us.