I’ve been spending a little time thinking about how viewers interact with the shows and media that they consume. The last few years has seen a rise in what is called “second screen” meaning that the shows on television are being augmented with an online experience that is meant to engage with the audience. The idea behind this type of engagement was that it would drive viewers to your sites where they can then access behind the scenes clips, or interact with characters via games, while getting more time for advertisers on their mobile devices or laptops. A perfect example of this is AMC’s The Walking Dead where you will see a notice pop up right before the beginning of the show that is a prompt for viewers to start their second screen experience.
To my thinking this second screen experience is an awful distraction to viewers. While the content that can be shown on a second screen might be of interest, and relevant to the viewership it feels like something that can pull the audience away from the story that is playing out in front of them and that can lessen the impact of the message you are trying to convey.
I have started putting my phone in another room to lessen the temptation to use it while watching tv shows or movies. I’ve done this because I feel like viewers like me have become so easily distracted that moments that feature silence have become times when you check into your Facebook, or Twitter and in that moment you are lessening the impact that the filmmaker/storyteller is trying to convey by using silence as a storytelling device.
I think back to one of my favorite scenes of all time and how being a distracted viewer would have ruined that moment for me, and ultimately taken the moments leading up to it and rendered much less impactful.
While I might not like the idea behind second screens according to recent reports by Nielsen the use of second screens is successful for content providers and networks…that does not mean that the viewers are getting the best means of consuming the media, but that they are using second screens to access their social media accounts, or shop for products being advertised within the show.
At least one major network is looking to stop using second screen applications, as this quote from Disney’s Digital EVP Albert Cheng in an article by GigaOM indicates:
ABC did a number of tests with second-screen applications that pushed out contextual information for shows like Grey’s Anatomy, and Cheng said that one of the lessons learned during those tests was that it just doesn’t matter enough to viewers. “It was interesting to viewers, but not essential,” he said. What’s more, when engagement did happen, it ended up taking people’s attention away from the show’s story. “Second screen becomes a distraction,”
As we produce our works, and attempt to have people connect with the stories we are aiming to tell it is important that we explore all of the tools, and capabilities that are available to us, but I can’t say it strongly enough, that no matter what choices we make as creators those choices need to serve the story, and not come at the cost of silence.