League Technology Summit: looking at the second screen

The growth of the second screen was one of the surprises of an IBC that was expected to be dominated by all things 3D, and the panel session at the LTS pointed towards it dominating a lot of the discussion in 2012 as well.

One of the keys about the second screen is that video is where it all starts. “We look at multimedia, but we like to start with video, partly because we’ve got a great selection of rights,” said Damon Phillips, ESPN3, Vice President. “Then we add our special sauce – whether it’s data, whether it’s social. But it starts with video.

“We focus on three things: it’s about the live experience, it’s about the social experience, it’s about personalisation. Everything a fan does has to be relevant to who the fan is and what they do.”

One of the main problems that companies developing second screen apps have, ironically enough, is that the video has become increasingly complex and there are no easy questions regarding it anymore. Codecs, bitrates, audio…it all reflects the old, worn joke that standards are great – everyone should have one.

“Part of the problem is than not everyone agrees,” said Joe Inzerillo, MLB Advanced Media. “And as soon as you get to some sort of consensus, a vendor disagrees and it all changes. We spend a lot of time trying to rally folks around particular standards, and it’s by far the most challenging thing. Unfortunately, if you want the best experience you can give the viewer, you end up developing a special purpose application.”

And companies need to do more to impress people now. “Fans once just wanted digital video to work,” said Philips. “Now we’ve done research that says that they expert more from the second screen than they do from their television screens.”

Which, of course, requires investment and inevitably led to talk of monetisation. Mark Silver, Senior Director, Digital Media at Canada‚Äôs Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, stated that they were planning on breaking down their coverage into morning/afternoon/evening day parts with tiered subscription rates. Channing Chor, Fox Sports, VP, Strategy FOX Sports Mobile and Advanced Platforms, meanwhile, cautioned that while viewers have got used to ads surrounding online video, mobile and tablet screens are significantly smaller and there’s a correspondingly greater resistance to their appearance.

Facebook will be around for at least a decade, the panel concluded, while plaudits were also due to the most monetised social network out there – World of Warcraft. Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, REAMDE, has a fictional online MMORPG called T’Rain which is so ubiquitous that people even hold business meetings in there. You never know, by Rio 2016 your Olympics coverage might be anchored by an orc and a hobbit…

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