Striking a Balance Between Viewers and Value in a Second-Screen World

Amidst the scramble to create dynamic second-screen experiences for everything from HBO’s Game of Thrones to Fox’s American Idol to Major League Baseball, content owners are facing the equally daunting task of balancing innovation with business sense. Budget restrictions, technical limitations, and rights issues often limit those making business decisions related to the usability, experience, and user expectations for consuming video.

Often, revenue is not the benchmark by which second-screen success is measured; profitability is. When balancing the viewer experience with the need to monetize, content owners should neither cease second-screen innovation nor pursue it recklessly.

“Android is an interesting platform, where you can do a lot of innovation but there’s not a lot of profit,” SVP Joe Inzerillo said yesterday in a Streaming Media East panel discussion. “Where do you draw the line? There’s a market for everything. [Practically] every device that’s out there is going to get bought by somebody at some level. The questions is, can you as a content provider make money on that?”

With second-screen experiences relying increasingly on ad revenue, many content owners are opting to funnel this revenue into innovating the second-screen experience, rather than waiting until the app turns a profit.

“At Turner Sports, we run [several] digital businesses on behalf of leagues, and I would say, for us, revenue enables innovation,” said Pete Scott, VP, Emerging Media, Turner Sports. “What I mean by that is, listen to what advertisers are looking for. A lot of times, we’re on the same congruent path of creating a good experience for the advertiser, [which] does fund a lot of innovation.”

Beyond deciding when to innovate, content owners must also decide where in the infrastructure to focus those innovations. Arguments can be made for both the front and back end; however, for an optimal second-screen experience, the panelists stressed, a balance must be struck between the two, and, if possible, technological responsibilities should not be separated.

“There’s the blurring of [front- and back-end] technology, and there’s the blurring of the folks that actually get the technology done,” explained Inzerillo. “The very notion of it is sort of an oxymoron, but yet it exists. And so we look at it as, they’re very symbiotic and they have to work in concert, especially when you start to get wireless devices.”

With the advent of wireless devices and the massive amount of content stored on the frontend, he continued, two major problems arose. The first concerned iPads’ attempting to download that content. The second dealt with the need to design different frontend presentations for Android, iOS, and Web devices.

“You don’t want to redevelop [your content] on three platforms,” Inzerillo pointed out. “The key to the difference between frontend and backend is figuring out what functionality goes in what bucket. So if you do it right, the business logic should be located more towards the backend, and the user interface [and] interaction, [which] is more likely to be specific to the operating system or the device, should be towards the frontend.”

Both he and Scott suggested that backend engineers be educated on frontend technology, and vice versa.

“The new engineer of today is different from the engineer of five years ago,” said Scott. “There’s a great term: creative technologist. I love that term because that’s basically what’s become that bond between the frontend and the backend.”

Understanding the relationship between frontend and backend is particularly essential for ensuring stability in the workflow.

“If you can’t be stable, then you can’t be innovative,” said Inzerillo. “The backend is a great example for us. We may have an average game that’s got 100,000 users in it. All of a sudden, it becomes a no-hitter. Well, all of a sudden, we may get a million folks [watching] that game. You have to be able to scale. Otherwise, the user experience at the time that’s most crucial goes down. If you’re not as focused on the backend and you’re more focused on the frontend without having the backend infrastructure to pull it off, you might have a really bad situation where the opportunity for you to shine becomes your biggest failure.”

Not to be forgotten, at the root of any debate surrounding the second-screen experience is the content itself. The panelists cautioned about creating an app for the sake of creating an app: not every first-screen presentation requires a corresponding second screen.

“A lot of the apps out there are really solutions looking for problems,” said Inzerillo. “However, I do work for baseball, and I do believe our sport is cool and special enough that it deserves more than an up-down on the remote. I want to make a compelling, awesome experience.”

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