College Sports Summit: Second Screen a ‘First’ for Many, a Social Hub for All

When it comes to the second-screen experience, fear of cannibalization has gone the way of the Flip phone and dial-up modem. The London 2012 Olympics and, more recently, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament proved that a dynamic second-screen experience does not negatively impact the first-screen product; in fact, with the right strategy, the second screen can be a positive force that draws fans to the first screen.

At last week’s College Sports Summit in Atlanta, content creators and technology manufacturers discussed their varied approaches to the second screen and the necessary integration of social media into the experience.

For many at the collegiate level, however, the term second screen is not entirely accurate.

From left: Mass Relevance’s Josh Rickel, Columbia University’s Alex Oberweger, and University of Miami’s Brian Bowsher

From left: Mass Relevance’s Josh Rickel, Columbia University’s Alex Oberweger, and University of Miami’s Brian Bowsher

“For us, second screen is actually first screen for a lot of what we’re doing,” said Alex Oberweger, associate athletics director for strategic communications, Columbia University. “We’re in New York City, which means we’re competing with the Yankees, Jets, Giants, Rangers, Islanders, Red Bulls … getting a share of the voice is difficult for us. We’re very much interested in what we can do with the second-screen experience. We also understand that, on a college campus, the preferred method of communication for students and, increasingly, alumni is through social media, and so we’re trying very hard to integrate the two.”

Colleges are responding to students’ insatiable need for social networking. From social-media stalwarts Facebook and Twitter to newer tools like Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and others, content creators are finding that they must create content specifically for those sites.

“The biggest takeaway that we have in our efforts on the second screen in this past season is just to go to where your fans are,” says Brian Bowsher, digital media strategist, University of Miami. “Digital really reflects the ‘real world,’ where [we could] throw a great game-watch party, but fans really like watching games at bars, or they like watching at home, or they go to their friend’s house, so it doesn’t make a total amount of sense to go to all this effort to create something in order to drive people to this one spot. The onus is on us to really create content for all those different places where people naturally watch their games.”

A recent Nielsen survey reported that an estimated 70% of tablet owners watch sports on their primary screen while engaging with their Web-connected device. While this is hardly surprising for any smartphone user who has checked his or her e-mail or looked up player stats during a game, college and professional teams are looking for ways to direct eyeballs to their second-screen content and not someone else’s.

“It isn’t just about this thing that distracts from the TV; it’s supposed to complement the actual broadcast,” said Kelly Moulton, VP, North America and head of marketing, “How can we not just stream out a bunch of different data and video but actually train audience to press a button and see that their [answer to a] poll question ends up in an interesting graphic on-air?”

Throughout the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Turner Sports used its second-screen product to get fans interested in games they otherwise might not have seen. March Madness Live — a suite of products for broadband, iOS, and Android streaming every game of the tournament — acted as a primary-screen experience during the first two days of the tournament before shifting to a complementary role in later rounds.

“Some of the key learnings for us [were] around how people consume the tournament and what they want to share,” said Seth Miller, product manager, social, March Madness Live, Turner Sports. “The ability for us to be able to clip and share real-time highlights of games and distribute those is incredibly and increasingly powerful as a means of getting people interested in games. Not many people necessarily would have tuned their sets or tuned their apps to [watch] Florida Gulf Coast.”

Turner Sports’ Seth Miller (left) and Duke University’s Chad Lampman

Turner Sports’ Seth Miller (left) and Duke University’s Chad Lampman

For a basketball powerhouse like Duke University, the second-screen product is similarly deployed as both a first-screen and second-screen experience depending on the sport. Fans watching a Duke basketball game either in-venue or at home can interact with the second screen by answering poll questions and engaging with social media through the Duke Blue Devils app. Meanwhile, those looking to catch Duke’s other sports can stream live games through the portal.

“It’s almost a first screen for most of our sports. Obviously, [for] some of our bigger sports, it’s a second-screen experience, but, [for] a lot of [sports], it’s the first screen,” said Chad Lampman, director of video, Duke University. “We’ve done a lot of stuff with teasing things through Twitter to drive [fans] back to our Website. We’ll put up some highlights or a feature that we’re doing, show 15-30 seconds of it on Twitter, and say, Here’s a link to watch the rest of it. That’s been very popular and very successful for Duke; it’s actually helped our numbers on our Website.”

The Big Ten Network, through its broadband and mobile BTN2Go products, has also striven to increase interest in its programming through social media. BTN tapped Mass Relevance to aggregate real-time Big Ten conversation in one hub.

“One thing we definitely learned from this — and I think it’s important to mention — is, these types of experiences aren’t what I call ‘field of dreams,’” said Josh Rickel, VP, media & entertainment, Mass Relevance. “It’s not ‘if you build it, they will come. They really do require promotion. What BTN did was, they bought Twitter-promoted products around it so they used paid media to drive traffic to it, and, when they did that, the usage of it significantly increased. Once you get people there and you can build that conversation and build that participation, that’s when things really start to see massive growth.”

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