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How Turner’s Casting Experiment Just Might Revive Second Screen

One of the biggest trends we’ll see in 2018 will be an increase in ad-supported OTT viewing. While much of this will come from OTT-only services like Hulu and Crackle, we’ll also see rapid growth of the ad-supported apps that traditional networks are launching on OTT devices and smart TVs.

Why would a network spend money on an app when virtual MVPDs (vMVPDs) like DirecTV Now and Hulu Live TV also provide an OTT viewing platform for the network?  “The apps provide a richer and deeper experience,” says Jesse Redniss, Chief Innovation Officer at Turner. “If you’re a fan of one of our shows, there’s more content, and thus more of a connection from a dedicated app than from an MVPD app.”

Turner and other networks have aimed their apps at viewers who want that deeper and richer experience as well as viewers who admittedly watch a lot of Netflix. For those viewers, the ability to stay on Roku (rather than finding the TV remote and switching inputs to get back to the set top box) is a huge plus.

The problem for networks, of course, is that their apps don’t come preinstalled on streaming devices and smart TVs. It’s up to consumers to take that step, and so the question becomes how to get them to do so.

Marketing can help, but if the viewer is not in front of a smart TV or streaming device when they see the ad, it can be hard to get them to remember to actually download the app the next time they are. This was the dilemma the Turner team faced in trying to get viewers to download  apps from TNT and TBS, which led them to discover a technology known as “casting.”

“We had found that a lot of viewers started watching on mobile,” Redniss relates. “People go to their phones to search for content and they often have the apps installed on their phones—if you’re a serious basketball fan, you probably have the TNT app on your phone … and you probably would rather watch the game on a big screen TV.”

But how to make that happen?

Redniss and the Turner team had studies showing that 82% of tablet viewing and 64% of smartphone TV viewing were happening at home. And then they stumbled upon the solution: a technology called Vizbee that allows for “casting”— literally pushing the broadcast from the smartphone or tablet to the TV.

“Vizbee is pretty incredible,” Redniss notes. “If the user doesn’t have the app installed, Vizbee will find it in the device’s app store and prompt installation. That’s a huge plus since many viewers would otherwise give up at that point. Once they have the app installed, the whole process is quite simple. Users just point the phone or tablet and ‘cast’ and the show they’re watching starts playing on their TV.”

The numbers speak to Vizbee’s value for Turner: 57% of Roku casts drove installs, as did 23% of Fire TV casts. Those numbers are important for Turner because getting those installs is their Holy Grail. “Once viewers see how easy it is to go from one device to the next, they start to use the app more and more and watch more than they would on mobile,” says Redniss. “Sports, in particular, has been a big driver, driving about 15% more installs on Roku for both TNT and TBS than non-sports viewing.”

Vizbee allows TNT and TBS viewers to cast to Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and, recently, to Samsung smart TV’s as well. Samsung’s new Tizun interface is finally catching up with the streaming devices in terms of interface design, and with over 40% of the smart TV market, Samsung offers Turner a chance to reach an even bigger audience for its apps.

The Return of the Second Screen

Now that Turner has all these viewers, the next step is how to monetize them. To that end, both TNT and TBS plan to begin testing interactive ads on the apps, using the mobile device the viewer cast from as a second screen for both advertising and additional content.

Second screen is something the industry tried once before, in the early part of this decade, but viewers weren’t quite there yet. Now, Redniss and his team feel they might be.

The notion is to make the ad experience between the screens more effective for consumers. So that while a 30-second commercial for the Gap is playing on TNT, the smartphone app the viewer originally cast from might show some customized items that the viewer can then tap on and be taken to the Gap website to buy.

The apps also allow Turner to take advantage of addressable advertising—sending different ads and different messages to viewers based on a range of demographic factors ranging from location to age to prior purchase history..

“By feeding viewers a combination of relevant content and interactive ad units on their smartphones and tablets, we think we can improve the overall experience,” Redniss says. “This is the ‘Moneyball’ approach to television—everything is data-driven.”

The data Turner collects from these interactions will indeed be quite valuable, particularly data around how viewers will interact with a second screen. One of the biggest problems Second Screen 1.0 faced was that viewers didn’t always remember to open the relevant app while they were watching TV. But with casting, that app is already open, making it easier to convince viewers to use it as a companion device, even bringing the show back onto the smartphone or tablet when the viewer wants to go into another room.

“This is still just the beginning,” Redniss notes. “There’s so much more we’ll be able to do as OTT usage grows, both with advertising and with the viewer experience. Even something as basic as playlisting—letting viewers make playlists on the mobile app that they can then play later on the TV—and customizing an ad load to fit that playlist. That is the future.”

Second screen may well be the future of advertising, a way to close the loop between the various devices we’ve come to regard as virtual extensions of our own hands.The trick will be making second screen content—both program-related and ad-related—compelling enough that users don’t find something more interesting to do with their phones.


Originally published at Forbes.com on January 5, 2018