Second screens: Why TV viewers' limited attention spans could be gaming's gain

Chunk's Brian McHarg on changing nature of content consumption

Second screens: Why TV viewers' limited attention spans could be gaming's gain

You might think with the rising number of companion apps and websites - often complete with some form of gamification – attached to top TV shows that the world of television was fully embracing the 'second screen'.

According to Brian McHarg of digital content outfit Chunk, second screens are in fact something of a last resort for the television industry. They're a "coping mechanism" for the fact that scores of viewers now longer devote their attention to the TV set in the corner of their living room.

TV times?

Chunk has been responsible for scores of apps and games produced in conjunction with TV shows for the likes of the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Endemol, amongst others, though McHarg claimed the second screen is nothing new.

Speaking at the Develop conference in Brighton, McHarg showed clips of a US show from the 1950s where viewers were encouraged to use a special marker to trace drawings onto the TV screen to interact with pre-set objects on film.

Likewise, in the 1990s in the UK, views of Saturday morning kids show Going Live could play basic video games by shouting movements down the phone while the show's producer rein-acted their instructions in play in real time.

Some of the stickiest content we've seen has been games.
Brian McHarg

Now, of course, TV shows across the board are entertaining the idea that people have their phones and tablets with them while watching the television. And for good reason.

Attention span

77 percent of people watching TV these days, McHarg said, are doing so with a device in their hands.

Worryingly, however, half of people watching TV are engaging in 'media stacking' – the consumption of media of activities that aren't related to the show playing on their TV set. Keeping people's attention, therefore, is a priority.

"Some of the stickiest content we've seen have been games, or apps with some kind of gamification in it," he concluded.

"This represents a huge opportunity for developers," he added, noting that interactive media is currently in a 'bronze age' – growing, but still with major challenges ahead, such as how developers can get viewers to play games and apps tied to time-shifted shows watched via Netflix or TV content streamed through an Xbox One.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.