Alan Weissberger Interactive Television IPTV set-top

Second Screen Apps Enhance Viewing Experience & Offer Additional Capabilities – TVNEXT 2012 Conference Highlights


There were many interesting exhibits, presentations and panel sessions at the 6th annual TVNEXT conference, held October 10-11th in Santa Clara, CA.  Some that stood out and were particularly enlightening to this author:

  • Rise of the NexGen TV Operator (impact of cloud-based services, over-the-top content delivery, multi-screen entertainment, virtual MVPDs and migration to all-IP networks)
  • Anyone can be a digital broadcaster (and distribute what used to be called “closed circuit TV” to a geographically dispersed audience)
  • When will TV be everywhere (on tablets, notebooks, smart phones, other gadgets)?
  • TV 3.0: OTT Content & Service Delivery at Home and On-The-Go
  • Video Delivery with Quality of Experience (QoE)
  • Voice Activated Universal Interface (for TV navigation, search, and program selection)
  • Second Screen Strategies and Apps (how they complement TV viewing & can be used as a remote device for enhanced TV control)

Due to time and space constraints, this article will focus on Second Screen Apps by  reviewing selected presentations.  Depending on reader interest (via comments and/or emails to the author), other areas may be covered in forthcoming articles.  Have a look at the TVNEXT conference agenda by clicking here

1.  Second Screen Strategies:  Content is Still King, by David Jones, Executive Vice President of Marketing – Shazam

Key points made by Mr. Jones:

  • Mobile devices will be the platform for interactive TV: already at scale, inherently portable, we’re trained to multi-task, no fighting over the remote.
  • The Shazam app provides a blend of rich mobile, optimized content and social features.
  • Shazam was the official second screen partner of NBC at the Olympics this past summer.  Viewers were able to access video highlights, athletes bios, results, medal counts, featured music.
  • Shazam for TV was said to be the leading TV companion app. Shazam has partnered with 10 TV networks, including the big four in the U.S.
  • Value to networks and creators of TV shows:  facilitate new sponsorship opportunities and drive revenues.
  • Value to advertisers:  empower consumers to engage beyond a 30-second or 1 minute advertising spots.
[Editor’s note: Click here to see a ViodiTV interview with David Jones, where he discusses interactive TV, as well as Shazam’s success in selling music.]

2.  TV Everywhere for Everyone: Custom Subscriber Packages, by Marty Roberts, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing – thePlatform

This presentation examined the technology and business underpinnings that take advantage of growing content libraries to provide operators with the flexibility to create custom subscription packages–to add value, upsell, or promote their services across devices, whilst ensuring business policies and financial obligations remain intact.Here were the key issues delineated for second screen apps:

  • Using second screen apps to complement the linear viewing experience is a great idea.
  • One of the challenges that programmers will face is addressing metadata and complementary content at the production level.
  • Metadata needs to be addressed from a time-based perspective.
  • Metadata and content discovery solutions must be able to simplify the end-user experience, in the face of rapidly expanding content libraries.

In summary, the digital media landscape holds lots of opportunity, but it’s also becoming far more complex. There are an ever-growing number of devices, more sophisticated syndication models, more complicated business policies, and new forms of presentation, HTML5 (universal) players versus native apps (with embedded browsers).

3.  Enhance the TV Viewing Experience with Second Screen Apps, by Lee Culver, Assistant Vice President, Video Development – AT&T U-Verse

Key points made by Mr. Culver:

  • Industry trends make second screen devices and apps extremely relevent.  There are many second screen devices (mostly smartphones & tablets) in the living room, those devices are constantly in use (seldom turned off), device usage impacts TV viewing behavior.
Image from AT&T’s 2012 TVNEXT Presentation
  • 65-70% of mobile device owners use them while watching TV at least several times a week.  Source: Nielsen, Q1 2011 Source: Nielsen, Feb 2012 Mobile Insights; Pew Internet & Mobile Device Report.
Image from AT&T’s 2012 TVNEXT Presentation
  • There are lots of challenges and opportunities with second screen apps for Service Providers, Content Providers, Mobile App Developers, and Consumers.
  • For consumers, there are new multi-screen interactive experiences. In most cases, wireless devices provide a better interface to control the TV (as remote controls and on-screen navigation/search continue to be quite primitive, according to this author).
  • Complementary TV apps provide additional information about the show, e.g. bio of actors, related shows and viewing times.
  • Social TV apps simplify the process of sharing what viewers are watching with friends; poll the audience and comment (such interaction is largely absent from pay TV offerings from Comcast/Xfinity and AT&T’s U-Verse, according to this author).
  • Discovery and Control apps provide easy to use interfaces for searching content, getting recommendations, and controlling the TV (The author wonders why these features require a second screen/mobile device?  Why aren’t they offered via the remote control and set top box that comes with the pay TV service?).
  • Entertainment apps allow music, photos, or video to be easily viewed on the TV (this capability for user-owned, non-TV content can’t easily be provided by a set top box/remote control device).
  • Gaming apps create integrated experiences using both the TV and mobile device screens (but these are no substitute for a stand alone game console like Microsoft’s XBox)

AT&T introduced a “U-verse Enabled Platform” for second screen devices in January 2012 at the CES. AT&T’s U-Verse Developer program is open to all 3rd party developers.  The primary functions are:

  • Mobile device pairing with U-Verse TV receiver/set top box (this requires a configuration procedure that’s done over the home WiFi network)
  • Send remote commands, e.g. fast forward, rewind to DVR; change channel to IPTV set top box
  • U-verse receiver status and notification of change
  • Playback of compatible media on the TV screen

More information is at:

During the Q and A during and after the session, Mr Culver said, “AT&T is committed to working with 3rd party developers. We will also be developing our own apps (for U-Verse TV).”

Lee acknowledged that AT&T has to clearly specify how to pair a second screen device with U-Verse Residential Gateway/Set Top Box- both for developers and consumers. The procedure for that pairing takes place over the home WiFi network. It results in the second screen device being able to control the TV screen and viewing experience (via WiFi and NOT an IR interface like the remote control has).

This U-Verse developer program is currently restricted to mobile devices (iPhones and IPads) that run on Apple’s iOS. The apps are downloaded from the Apple on-line app store.  More information for iOS developers is at:

No plans to support Android devices have been announced by AT&T.

Closing Comments:

TVNEXT certainly offered a lot of lot of great content.  Please comment on subjects you’re interested in and I’ll try to reply.

Some second screen apps will permit viewers to interact with  programs  they’re watching.  For example,  if you’re watching a TV series and a key plot point from a prior episode is mentioned — one you might have missed — you could pull up text on your second screen (smartphone, e-reader or tablet) to get an explanation of the story developments.  You could also get thumbnails of prior episodes and see how popular they were with viewers.  Might even be able to see which episode’s your Facebook friends liked or watched and submit a program review.  Such interactive experiences were promised years ago, but are largely absent in the U.S. pay TV industry.   Second screen apps could make TV interactivity a “must have.”   We think that has a lot of potential and power.

With respect to second screen apps for discovery and control of TV viewing/DVRs, we wonder why those capabilities aren’t provided by the set top box (STB) via a software download from the Pay TV Service Provider?  This is especially a puzzle for AT&T’s  U-Verse TV, which is a relatively new offering with very software intensive STBs that process the IPTV formatted real time video, on demand and DVR stored programs.  In this case, we think all you really should need is a the remote control device that’s included in the TV service you’re paying for each month.  But of course, second screen discovery and control apps would let you do a lot more than what you can do now with the buttons on your dedicated remote control device.

As a U-Verse customer, I am astonished at how difficult it is to use on screen navigation and search to find programs of interest, particulary sporting events and movies.  But that is the subject of an entirely different article on pay TV customer experiences, that I’ve been researching for the past few months.


After this article was published, AT&T Corporate Communications wrote me about  a second screen app that’s available now for remote control of U-Verse TV.  It looks very interesting!

AT&T U-verse Easy Remote app, an iOS app that allows you to control your U-verse TV with voice commands or gesture movements via your iPhone or iPad.

“AT&T U-verse is the first major TV provider to allow customers to use voice remote control capabilities. The app was built with a commitment to universal design and is optimized to give all users access to features to control your TV, including:

  • Multiple screen color, button and font size choices which let you customize your iPhone or iPad screen for a better viewing experience.
  • A voice initiated remote control to perform a variety of commands, including Channel Up, Channel Down, Fast Forward, Rewind, Replay, Pause, Play, Record and Go to channel (name or number).
  • A voice command feature that lets you choose a show you want to watch by simply saying the show title or channel number into your device.
  • iPhone’s VoiceOver screen reader, enabling you to hear TV show and channel information as you scroll through your programming guide.
  • Gesture commands, which allows you to control shows you’re viewing with different gesture movements.
  • One-touch access to closed captioning.”

Related Article:

AT&T May Buildout U-Verse to Remote/Underserved Areas; 7M U-Verse subscribers to get OTT content & Second Screen Apps!

Author Alan Weissberger

By Alan Weissberger

Alan Weissberger is a renowned researcher in the telecommunications field. Having consulted for telcos, equipment manufacturers, semiconductor companies, large end users, venture capitalists and market research firms, we are fortunate to have his critical eye examining new technologies.

8 replies on “Second Screen Apps Enhance Viewing Experience & Offer Additional Capabilities – TVNEXT 2012 Conference Highlights”

Alan, thanks for the excellent summary of a conference that just keeps getting better. TVNEXT brings together a good mix of technology and content players to discuss the issues in creating a converged entertainment world.

Your summary does an excellent job of touching upon what was said by the speakers. The other aspect of this conference is the networking it facilitates with the speakers and other attendees, but also with the exhibitors. The one thing the exhibitors have in common is that they are doing things that have the potential to change the distibution, interaction and consumption of TV.

Look for video interviews on ViodiTV from this event.

Ken, Thanks for your kind words. It took me the better part of several days to synthesize and distill the many pages of hand written notes into this article!
Will do follow on articles if there are enough requests from readers.

Heavy Reading just released a report on 2nd Screen Apps: Double Vision: Are Second-Screen Apps the Future of TV? explores the prospects for second-screen apps technologies for cable operators and programmers. Included is a look at the market drivers, key challenges and cable’s plans. While there are dozens of startups flooding into the companion TV apps arena, Heavy Reading has sought to identify suppliers involved in second-screen apps that are playing a role or could play a role with the cable industry and related players. The report profiles 13 companies listed at:

Key findings of Double Vision: Are Second-Screen Apps the Future of TV? include the following:

*Emerging automatic content recognition technologies (ACR) enable broadband-connected devices to display interactive apps that are synced to TV programming.
*Cable networks are exploring the potential for second-screen apps with their programming to increase audience engagement.
*MSOs are supporting connected devices but so far are not offering their own two-screen apps, due to a lack of technical standards and other issues.
*Second-screen apps face many challenges, including usability, uncertain consumer demand and monetization models.
*MSOs could use their infrastructure to support second-screen interactivity, but they must be convinced of the benefits.

Just last month, Comcast & its NBC Universal subsidiary have invested in second-screen app developer Zeebox (located in the UK). The premise is that if viewers are more engaged with TV shows, they’ll keep coming back to watch more shows. The 2nd screen also gives TV networks another opportunity to raise advertising revenue given a larger audience.

The Zeebox app gives users information about people and products that appear in TV shows, allows users to see what their Facebook friends are watching and points users to iTunes store to be able to buy songs that come up during singing shows such as NBC’s “The Voice.” This second screen app picks up audio clues and automatically identifies and syncs up with the TV show being watched. That way, information specific to the program is offered to the viewer in real time.

Read more at:

According to Parks Associates, 66% of Western European pay-TV subscribers are able to get second screen services from their service provider, compared to only 36% in mid-2011.

“The competition from OTT services, growth in broadband penetration, and consumer adoption of connected devices all drove the rapid deployment of multiscreen services, and now operators are looking to shift focus from customer retention to monetization,” said Stuart Sikes , President, Parks Associates.
With service providers poised to deploy over 20 million high-end, feature-rich residential gateways in Western Europe this year, multiscreen services may soon be offered in conjunction with other advanced features such as VoIP, advanced home network monitoring, and media sharing. Chart at:

Alan, thanks for addendum about the 2nd screen app from AT&T. Voice recognition, using a second screen, makes a great deal of sense.

It is interesting to see how this has evolved, as some 20 years ago or so, Jerrold/GI/Motorlola had a great idea; to combine a home phone and remote control functionality.

Then last decade, Agile TV tried to create the voice controlled remote.

This enhancement of the Uverse service is an example of the app revolution, where low-cost software apps convert what is a somewhat generic, but versatile hardware element into virtually anything;from a flashlight to a remote control that rivals something from science fiction.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: