Second screens

Research suggests that people often use ‘second screens’ such as a laptop, tablet or mobile phone while watching TV.

Why was this of interest to NoTube?

One aspect of NoTube investigated how the merging of Web and TV can be used to enhance the TV experience. One of our assumptions was that connecting the TV to the Web doesn’t have to mean showing the Web on the TV screen, and that there are many contexts in which using a second screen can create a better user experience than integrating Web content on the TV screen. This is because using a second screen:

  • doesn’t take the user away from main viewing experience
  • doesn’t clutter the TV screen
  • is easier for reading and entering text
  • allows for personalised interfaces

If the TV can tell other devices what its currently playing, then those devices can do useful things with that information. This could be as simple as enabling the user to say something about the what they are watching using social media without having to look it up, or something as complicated as automatically finding more information about the programme, or looking up related programmes.

What NoTube has done in this area

Recently we have been developing our N-Screen prototype, a Web browser-based second screen application for small group exploration of on-demand content. N-Screen addresses  scenarios involving small groups of people watching TV together, both in the same room and remotely, with each individual having their own second screen device. N-Screen is a flexible framework that can be adapted for different data and content sets, and to integrate different combinations of recommendation strategies developed in the project.

TED N-Screen screenshot

N-Screen prototype for collaborative browsing of on-demand video

N-Screen is a flexible web-based demonstrator using HTML5 technologies to show a possible future of simple rather than a ‘smart’ TV where the smarts stay in the tablet or other hand-held device and the TV acts as a player. It has undergone extensive user testing (see blogposts here and here) and a few design iterations based on those: there are therefore various versions of it, including one using programmes from BBC and TED (player).

In early 2011 we worked with a group of Masters students at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam to explore usability heuristics for TV second screens, producing some draft guidelines which we hope that creators of second screen apps can re-use and build upon.

In an earlier NoTube demo, we showed a smart phone acting as a remote control and TV companion device, connected to a media centre via XMPP.

Using a NoTube iPhone app the user was able to operate the media centre (in this case MythTV) with the smartphone acting as a remote control to view a personalised TV programme guide, change channel and watch a programme.

Early NoTube demo

An early demonstration of No Tube operating across dual screens

We were also interested in using the smartphone as a companion device for watching TV. Here, the Web is a useful companion to the TV rather than the Web being on the TV screen. In our demo, the smartphone could also be used to read more information about the programme being watched (automatically generated from the Linked Open Data cloud), and to bookmark the programme to the Web.

Early NoTube iPhone app

Early NoTube demo showing use of a smartphone as a companion device

Find out more

Who was involved? BBC Research & Development and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, in collaboration with other project partners.


More research topics