“Second screen” is a concept that may originally have referred to the idea that the mobile phone provided an interaction channel for the TV or “First Screen” and hence be a response mechanism for advertisers, game shows and more.
With the rise of social media “Second Screen” comes also to cover the increasingly common, or prevalent use case that a family sitting on a couch doesn’t have its attention focused primarily on what is happening on the first screen and is doing unrelated things with the second screen, such as keeping up with friends, watching out for something that might be more interesting and all the things we typically use personal communication devices for. Also we have the idea of multi-screen where we are talking about any combination of TV, phone, tablet, laptop …
The picture of a family sitting on the couch all ostensibly enjoying Downton Abbey but actually engaging in unrelated activities of separately keeping up with friends, gossip and trivia can be seen as either a great and beneficial expansion of the liberation of friendship from the constraints of time and space or a picture of family dysfunction. Your choice. I guess it’s interesting to consider what the motivation for this might be. I can only hazard a guess. Part of it might be that most TV watching is not inspired by a genuine interest, and now serves a secondary purpose in filling in the gaps between other types of entertainment and interaction. The First Screen is in reality the Second Screen.
Another perspective is that according to Google’s characterisation, multi screening has two distinct modes, one of them is companion mode and the other is multi-tasking mode. Most of us use our mobile devices to multi-task, or “find time”. It’s less common to use a mobile device in companion mode or in an ancillary or complementary way to another device. That might reflect a lack of primary interest in the content, but might also reflect that it is really early days for “companion content”. Let’s not forget that it took many years for radio, TV and Web formats to emerge (it’s notable how crude early TV broadcasts look for example), so it seems logical to think that cross-channel or multi-screen companion formats will take a lot longer to emerge, especially since use of mobile as a single channel is still at a relatively early stage.
It will of course be a very interesting journey to see how advertisers and other “companion screeners” develop the formats that I have no doubt will look commonplace in the future.