When television people talk about a second screen experience, the generally optimistic assumption it that viewers will be watching television and doing something related on another screen. However, among its annual predictions for the technology, media and telecommunications sector, Deloitte expects that in 2013 around one in ten households in developed countries will have two or more screens showing television programmes at the same time in the same room.
In 2013, most dual screen viewing will involve a traditional television and a second screen, such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone. However, it could increasingly be a second television screen.
By the end of 2013, Deloitte predicts the time spent with more than one video screen could exceed that spent with the combination of a television programme and its dedicated programme app or web site. Which is probably not a lot, compared to general television viewing, but it reflects emerging viewing behaviour.
People may be watching related views of the same thing, such as different matches in a sports event, or entirely separate programmes. The latter tends not to figure in current television thinking. If anything, it may be viewed as a good thing — people are watching more television. Yet it demonstrates a continuing breakdown in the dominance of the main fixed screen in the living room.
The uncomfortable truth, particularly for commercial broadcasters, which is not addressed by Deloitte, is that a lot of television “viewing” is a form of “monitoring”. We may be metaphorically watching out of the corner of our eye, or listening with one ear, waiting for something interesting to happen. Channel “flicking” or “zapping” is an extreme symptom of this, either because we are trying to watch more than one thing at once, or because we are searching for something to watch.
Having more than one screen available may increase this slightly neurotic behaviour, which is often irritating to others in the room, or it may allow one to dwell longer on one screen while simultaneously using another.
One observation is that having more than one screen available allows families to spend time together, without compromising on what to watch. One or more members of the group may use headphones, a scenario that may be uncomfortably familiar to those with children.
Deloitte also suggests that it replicates the work place environment for those that work with two or more screens on a regular basis. That may be more common among those at Deloitte, but it reflects an increasing feature of the way many people now work.
For over a decade, interactive television has offered the potential to deliver multiple streams of coverage of an event, such as a tennis tournament or the Olympic Games. This choice of coverage has proved popular with viewers, although it still requires viewers to change channels or streams and they can generally only watch one at once.
Another feature, often advanced by advocates of technology, and again proposed by Deloitte, is the ability to switch between multiple camera angles. Yet this has rarely proved popular with viewers. Television producers and directors generally do a better of presenting coverage of an event and the output of a single camera rapidly loses interest.
Picture in picture technology has been around for even longer, allowing people to watch one programme while keeping an eye on another. The result has been largely unsatisfactory. The smaller image is reduced in resolution to the point that it may be unwatchable, while it intrudes on the main image, obscuring part of the picture and generally distracting the viewer.
However, with more than one screen available, these features may become more accessible. A second screen may be used to present another angle on an event, or to check the status of a simultaneous event, without interrupting the coherent coverage that television producers and directors aim to deliver.
One problem, not noted by Deloitte, is that for technical reasons, streams delivered over the general internet may be delayed with respect to the main broadcast, not just by a few frames or even seconds, but in some cases by up to a minute. The may result in an unacceptable experience.
Of course, this is not an issue for regular broadcast channels or streams, or for IPTV services that are engineered to deliver a comparable experience.
We should not necessarily assume that the second screen is smaller or subordinate. With the falling cost of flat screen televisions, it is increasingly feasible for a family to have more than one, not just in different rooms, but within the same room.
That may not appeal to everyone, but as Deloitte notes, a 42-inch screen may be cheaper than a 10 inch tablet. Furthermore, two 42-inch screens are lighter and may be a more practical proposition in many rooms than a single 80-inch screen.
Ironically, a standard office feature for a television executive has been an array of screens showing multiple channels, notably those of competing broadcasters. That could become part of the television experience of their viewers.
A decade from now, some people may look back nostalgically on an era when they had just one television on the wall. Whether this means that we will be more or less engaged by the viewing experience is another matter.
Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2013 is available from Deloitte and contains many insights into our changing use of communications technologies.