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Computer HackAccording to recent Nielsen reports, television watchers no longer just watch television. Instead, approximately 40 percent of them have the television on while they also scan their smartphones or tablets for additional entertainment. These “second screens” threaten the very premise of television advertising revenues, namely, that content is appealing enough that viewers will stay tuned, through commercial breaks. If instead they switch to their phones when the show is not on, it becomes harder to sell ad time.

To maintain their position, and their viewers, some networks are developing parallel content for the second screens. When the commercial comes on, entranced viewers should want more of the same, so they tune their tablets in to the parallel content that is available online—or so the theory goes.

For its original series The Killing for example, AMC uses short vignettes to provide additional background on key characters. The online content looks as if it were shot on the character’s own smartphone. The idea is not to replace the main storyline but to enhance it. AMC offers similar content for two other of its highly rated, popular shows, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

For NBC, the content provided is not closely integrated with the storylines at all but rather a means to offer more comedy. In parallel with The Mindy Project, the network offers second screen outtakes and bloopers, or even just the funniest moments from the show, replayed for repeated laughs.

The promise, for both networks and their advertisers, is an entirely new route to viewers’ attention. Thus networks hope to build their digital advertising revenue, and advertisers hope to appeal to modern viewers, despite their famously short attention spans.

Source: Amol Sharma, “TV Networks Play to ‘Second Screen’,” The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2013