It seems like every time I turn around there is a new ‘second screen’ (aka laptop, tablet, and/or smartphone) app or content that networks are working overtime to foist on me. I was a skeptic. Still am for the most part. As a television purist, I normally like to really focus on watching my television shows and become immersed in the experience. Why would I want to distract myself from the story by having to ‘tend’ to the app that would continually pull me out of the show? I already make of point of blocking out other distractions during my television viewing: Why would I actually invite annoying distractions in, even if they are television show related?
It turns out, done right, they actually can be really can be fun. Helpful even. Yes, there are a lot of duds out there, but for the most part it feels like the powers that be at any given network are really trying to give you something good instead of just throwing something out there to see if it sticks.
Of the second screen ‘experiences’ that one engages in while watching the show, I find AMC’s StorySync for The Walking Dead fun and inoffensive (there’s one for Breaking Bad too). It’s a pretty basic experience that gives you just enough to make it worth using while watching the show, but isn’t so distracting that you can’t keep up with what’s going on. You get factoids, quizzes, polls, and a body count meter (both in zombies and humans) among other things. The best part about it is that you don’t have to continually participate to keep the sync moving; it rolls along whether you answer poll questions or not. You engage with it as much as you want to.
Another app that I’ve yet to delete is the Grimm ebook that serves as a companion to enrich the experience of watching the new season. Now, yes, NBC should be a lot more focused on getting their entire on air line-up in order instead of working on apps, but in the case of Grimm, the show is already pretty good to great and has built a substantial fanbase and earned the respect of television critics. Launching an app for this show is the right move to help build up its brand in the critical audience-expanding second season.
What makes this app so cool is that it’s cost conscious (i.e., free) but it’s not cheap or thin on content. And you don’t need to activate it while watching the show; instead it’s to complement the show. You can liken it to a Grimm wiki compilation of all things Grimm but a lot more enhanced. Music plays in the background as you scroll from chapter to chapter, NBC having given you a mother load of great, detailed information. You get it all: an overview of the show, season one episode descriptions, main character bios, lore and mythology explanations, and detailed descriptions, pictures, and videos of creatures of the Grimm world.
While the NBC Sports app for the 2012 Summer Olympics had its bugs, the NCAA March Madness sports app made my March Madness last year with how useful it was: I had access to any of the four feeds on which a game was playing, could check in with my fantasy sports pool, and complete and keep track of multiple brackets for the different pools I was participating in. This was a true second screen app done completely right.
I’m still torn about the use of the more interactive second screen apps like Zeebox or Viggle, although I give Viggle the edge for its gaming framework where you earn points for checking into a show which you can redeem for some pretty nifty gift cards. You’re actually rewarded for watching television-if you remember to activate your app to check-in.
I haven’t even scratched the surface on the crazy number of second screen apps and amount of content that the networks are continually developing to try to lure in new viewers and keep current viewers watching. I know for me, less is more: I like to be able to enjoy my primary screen’s content while having a little extra on the side to keep things lively. For me, the TV show is always the main event.
A) Basic: Walking Dead Story Sync
B) Complementary: Grimm ebooks
C) Constant Interaction: Viggle and Zeebox
D) None. The TV show is all I need