By Molly Freeman
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
How many people are guilty of pulling up the International Movie Database while watching a movie to figure out that actor’s name or see what other films an actress has starred in? How many have whipped out their phone to tweet during a particularly riveting moment on television?
Although there aren’t exact statistics to answer these questions, certainly enough people tweet during TV shows that Nielsen created a ratings system around the social media site. Whether anyone who has done these things knows it or not, they’ve participated in the second screen experience.
‘Second screen’ usually refers to using an electronic device such as a Smartphone or tablet while watching television shows or movies, although it can also apply to gaming consoles like the Nintendo DS. With the rise of social television, second screen apps and devices have become increasingly popular.
Many people participate in the second screen experience without even knowing it sometimes because it’s become a huge part of social television. A viewer can’t participate in the online discussion while watching a TV show without a Smartphone or computer.
Twitter even updated their iPhone and Android apps to highlight trending TV shows and make it easier for users to join the public conversation. The app goes hand in hand with the Nielsen Twitter TV Rating in making it easier to discuss television online in a way that encourages users to have a second screen experience.
Ben Kendrick, managing editor of Screen Rant and Game Rant, admits he’s just as guilty of live-tweeting TV shows or tweeting reactions to movies he’s seen.
“It is interesting how these second screens, having these more communal and social experiences when you’re watching these programs, how that has opened this world up than it was even more,” Kendrick says.
As a fan of Lost while it was still airing, Kendrick explains he used to watch the show live in a bar with other fans.
“I still kind of get that with Twitter, even though I’m not going and watching at The Walking Dead bar,” he says. “I do get to see people reacting and I like being part of that conversation.”
However, as the technology allows us to discuss TV live with thousands of other users, it also creates a social pressure to watch those TV shows live. It used to be that if you missed a show’s big mid-season finale, you’d only feel left out at the water cooler the next day. Now though, if you miss that episode, you’re left out of the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media sites—on top of avoiding spoilers.
“Hopefully as the technology evolves people can protect themselves [from spoilers] and also people will be a little bit more respectful of and aware of that those are very public conversations,” Kendrick says. “Not everybody is watching the things live. Preserving other people’s experience as well as your own.”
Kendrick also mentions that sometimes he’ll avoid the internet in order to form his own thoughts and ideas about a TV show or movie when he writes reviews. Watching TV with such a huge audience and participating in a multi-faceted conversation can be a double-edged sword, especially for a reviewer.
The second screen experience isn’t relegated to just TV, though; it’s also becoming integrated in movie theaters. In October, Disney released Second Screen Live: The Little Mermaid. At 16 locations around the US, viewers could watch The Little Mermaid in theaters and play along with an app Disney released for iPad. Audience members could sing along to the movie, play games, and compete with other participants in the theater.
This past summer an online debate was sparked by blogger Hunter Walk’s post “Reinvent the Movie Theater: wifi, outlets, low lights, second screen experience”. Walk argued that by creating movie theaters catering to the second screen experience, he could multitask work while watching the movie.
Of course, many people disagreed with Walk. The movie theater is a semi-sacred place in which to view a piece of art. It has worked for many decades, so why change it now? However, if theaters want to accommodate people like Walk and cater to their needs to encourage another demographic of movie-viewers, one day second screen theaters could become a reality.
But the second screen experience makes the most sense in the gaming realm, which according to Kendrick, is where we first really saw it being implemented. In older video games, users would have to open up a menu to look at a map, but in most games created now, the map is open on screen.
“For me, the most interesting use of it at least is gaming right now because it’s a built in part of the creator’s design,” Kendrick explains. “It’s opening up new avenues for people to interact with those games and simplify elements of the game experience to make them more immersive and more rewarding and less clunky.”
Between TV, movies, and games, the second screen experience is being most accepted within gaming culture. However, it seems it might take some time before creators of television and film catch up with the technology.