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The First Second-Screen Olympics?

  |  June 15, 2012   |  Comments

The Olympics is the perfect opportunity to practice collapsing distances, connecting people, and creating behavior.

Many are hailing the upcoming London Olympics as the first during which marketers will truly engage fans on the second screen. I suppose, in a sense, that's true. But while advertisers and marketers may begin to test the waters of true second-screen engagement, we won't see these efforts truly come to fruition until later Games.

The term "second screen" has been used quite liberally lately. There are two primary concepts around "second-screen engagement." The first applies to marketers who provide content optimized for more than one screen such as the PC, tablet, or smartphone. This type of content, typically or at least hopefully optimized for the device, will be pervasive during this summer's Olympic Games, which is frankly expected and not surprising. But that's not what I mean by "second screen." My definition of second screen is the deepening of the TV viewing experience by interacting with additional content delivered concurrently on another screen, like an iPad or tablet. In other words, you're holding another device while watching TV and cool, interactive, context-relevant content is being delivered to that device while you're watching TV. It's this type of second-screen engagement that offers many untapped possibilities for marketers.

It's surprising more marketers haven't yet embraced this type of engagement for the upcoming Olympics - even if just to dip their toe in the waters. Viewers right now can download Yahoo's audio-sync-enabled IntoNow or ConnecTV and receive unique content based on what they're watching. Viewers can also download Miso or GetGlue to check in to shows they're watching. My advice to marketers: download them. Try them. Understand what's possible.

More than almost any other TV event, the Olympics still draw a vast number of live viewers worldwide. Ratings for the London Olympics are expected to equal or surpass the 211 million Americans who watched the Beijing Games, according to Nielsen. More than four billion television viewers are expected to watch the opening and closing ceremonies for the London Olympics, a British minster said Sunday. This year, many of them will be holding a second screen: 46 percent of Americans use a tablet while watching TV, while 49 percent use a smartphone while watching, according to Razorfish. These are big numbers.

Beyond the sheer number of people watching the Olympics live, the Games are a perfect opportunity to capitalize on co-viewing practices because of the nature of sports in general. First, there's a cadence that comes with sports: there are pauses and replays, multiple heats and jumps, penalties, and time-outs. This "downtime" provides co-viewing opportunities to engage and interact with the viewers (not to mention deliver ads). NBC, for example, might provide through a second screen in-depth analysis about a specific athlete, an opportunity to learn where a country is, or take a guess on how the activity will end up (check out MLB's At Bat companion app for a good example).

Secondly, sporting events have fans. Fans are an interactive marketer's dream - passionate audiences desperately wanting to voraciously consume content but also interact with each other. This may be even truer with the Olympics, whose many sports draw niche audiences of über-engaged fans enabling the long tail of engagement, discussions, and marketing opportunities.

There are several ways marketers could capitalize on this behavior. One of the most effective ways to reach existing sports fans is to provide a sponsored backchannel in which fans can interact and discuss the behind-the-scenes story of various athletes or events. For example, one could envision an app that hears the announcer on TV say a certain athlete's name and instantaneously deliver a poll asking a trivia question about the athlete, then show how her answer aligned with the others playing. Another example might be leveraging some existing apps that encourage conversation so the once individual experience of watching TV now becomes a social experience as you "pull in" friends from your social graph. The opportunities for engagement are unlimited.

I do want to acknowledge Alex Huot, head of social media at the International Olympic Committee, and his creation of the Athletes' Hub. It is a well-done social media implementation offering the Olympic audience access to behind-the-scenes conversation. There is some game strategy with badges and rewards based on following an athlete and some unique access through video. It's a "good" social media implementation, but limiting.

But even though we don't see too much Olympic second-screen engagement doesn't mean there aren't folks thinking about it. Google and comScore are specifically looking at "measuring whether viewers are watching the Olympics on TV or on other devices and how they use multiple devices simultaneously and in tandem to get information and video," according to Joan FitzGerald, VP, television and cross media at comScore. We should see the results of London affecting the next Games.

There are two quite simple ways brands can (and should) start experimenting this year:

  1. Take advantage of interactivity. Go beyond simply trying to increase "likes" or "follows" - two actions often misunderstood as endings rather than beginnings of a campaign. Marketers need to create ways to drive deliberate action - like having viewers use their iPads to bet in real time who will win the 100-meter dash. Then continue to build upon that viewer investment through ongoing interaction; maybe an app or a community of interest space.
  2. Focus on the niche sports. If you have a product that connects with a certain sport's following, take advantage of the gathering of those rabid fans during the sports broadcast. Niche fans are intrinsically motivated to engage with their sport's content - whether passively on TV or actively on the second screen. Marketers have an unprecedented opportunity for access and to build a relationship.

My personal digital motto is the three C's: "collapsing distances, connecting people, and creating behavior." The Olympics is a perfect opportunity to practice this. Collapsing distances isn't just physical distance; it is emotional, cultural, and ideological distances as well. Connecting people requires using campaigns and digital strategies that encourage participation and engagement, not just as a flashpoint but ongoing. And always remember that it is a marketer's job to create and drive specific, ideally measurable behavior.

The Olympics is a Petri dish of opportunity for second-screen engagement - I expect in the Games to come, we'll see not only the typical social media but also a deeper level of remote engagement through the use of second-screen opportunities. The tools are there and getting better. Now we just have to understand how to use them to accomplish the three C's.

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Kenny Lauer

Kenny Lauer is vice president, digital experience at George P. Johnson (a Project: WorldWide agency). He spends most of his time helping many of the world's premier brands build relationships and engage with their customers through digital engagement strategies. His personal challenge is to help folks really understand how to "Collapse Distances, Connect People, and Create Behavior." He is a specialist and an ongoing student of customer strategy and digital remote experience creation. And nothing makes him happier than to spend hours with others chewing over these things while nursing a good cup of coffee. Kenny is a former evangelist with Apple and a customer strategist for KPMG and Peppers and Rogers. He has been awarded the elite "Certified Experience Economy Expert" designation and is often referenced in the digital space. Follow him on Twitter: @kennyL

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