by Joseph Saroufim
Second screen technology is becoming more common. We’re accustomed to interactive tweets during live TV events and applications that expand on televised content, such as the Game of Thrones app for HBO. What we haven’t seen much of, but certainly will in the near future, is the proliferation of narrative second screen content. This means that while viewers are watching the main screen programming, a secondary device (such as a tablet or smartphone) will provide synchronized content that enhances the viewing experience.
Samsung has been a pioneer in developing the applications and infrastructure necessary to make this type of programming a reality. In 2012, the company launched the Samsung Second Screen Storytellers challenge in conjunction with the New York Television Festival. Our team created a demo that won the challenge and we spent the better part of 2013 creating D-TEC, a television pilot that has second screen storytelling in its DNA. As the first team to build a narrative second screen TV series from the ground up, we’re happy to share what we’ve learned.
1. Integration Must Be Intuitive.
In creating D-TEC, we explored all the dynamic possibilities of second screen and then based our world, characters, tone and story around them. For us, that meant creating our main character as a surrogate for the audience and placing a second screen style device right in his hands. This device is mirrored on the viewer’s second screen, creating an instant connection and entry point for the audience. The relationship is obvious, intuitive, and functional. When the character looks to his screen, we know to look to our tablet. It's a tangible piece of the story that the audience is holding in their hands, meaning integration will never feel forced.
2. Applications Must Be Story-Driven.
Narrative second screen technology doesn’t make sense for every show. But imagine watching your favorite crime series and during the briefing scene, the case files fly right off your TV and onto the mobile device in your hands. Suddenly, you are immersed in the story, finding clues as they develop and seeing exactly what the characters see in real time. We used this unique, synchronized experience in D-TEC to provide fans with greater access to story without interfering with the arc of the episode. If you are embarking on a multi-screen project, don’t settle until you find a genre, story and characters that can truly showcase what second screen has to offer.
3. Don’t Overwhelm the Viewer
An important part of developing content for the second screen involves knowing when to hold back. If you are constantly bombarding the viewer with content on their tablet device then their attention will become divided and the story will be lost. Second screen content should never take precedence over main screen. If there is something important you want to convey on the second screen, leave some breathing room on the main screen. Minimize camera movement, cut less frequently between shots, and give dialog time to register. Your audience can take in two screens, but not if each screen is demanding their undivided attention.
4. Avoid the Obvious
Save the behind-the-scenes shenanigans for the DVD! You have the ability to tell a story in a whole new way. Don’t waste the opportunity on anything that isn’t pertinent to the narrative. With D-TEC, we were always asking, "Why does this moment NEED to be seen in the viewer’s hands as opposed to the main screen?" If you don't have a good answer, then you don't have a good second screen application.
5. Plan for Production
Don’t forget you are shooting a whole lot of extra footage; in a 44 minute pilot you might have an additional 20 minutes of second screen to accommodate. They might be on second screen, but they can't be treated as second class.
Most importantly, have fun with it. The rules of second screen storytelling are still being written. You are creating an integrated and immersive viewing experience that audiences have never seen before. We are excited to be at the forefront of this technology and we can’t wait to see what other content creators do to expand the creative boundaries of transmedia.
Joseph Saroufim, Peter Saroufim and Stephen Interrante are the co-creators of D-TEC.