Thursday, October 18, 2012

Netflix sneaks in some Simple second screen functionality

Depending on how up to date you are on your Twitter feed (or your S3 2Day curated news service), you most likely read the brief story on Gigaom about Netflix quietly rolling out some second screen functionality for the PS3 implementation of their streaming service.  I tried the service last night and included a few screen shots to give you an idea of what is capable, but let me try to take this conversation in two directions: 1) a discussion about what you can do today with an iPhone or iPad with your Netflix service, and 2) where the real opportunity for Netflix and other OTT video service operators lies.

First, the quietly launched (perhaps even experimental) service.  If you hadn't read the article or hadn't been watching Netflix on your PS3 while also trying to use Netflix on your iPad or iPhone at the same time, you would never have noticed this functionality is live (I am assuming this is on purpose).  In terms of the language we use in this blog, this implementation is focused on Simple (the ability to control the first screen).  The functionality worked decently enough for me on the iPhone and iPad, letting me choose something from either second screen and launch it to the first.  It allowed me to choose subtitles, use "trick play" (forward, rewind, etc) and worked a bit like AirPlay in that I could take the video stream from the PS3 back to my iPad/iPhone and it would start playing from there--presumably as I walked out of the room to enjoy my content somewhere else.  Assuming you educate consumers about this function, this is an easier way to search for content, especially since you can search for other shows (including the next in the series, etc) without interrupting program on the first screen.  However, it falls short of the full promise of Simple in that you cannot control volume (for example) and can't use the second screen to cause the app on the first screen to launch (presumably a more complex problem to solve in terms of APIs and devices)--but that would of course open up a real opportunity to Discover content on your second screen and have it launch directly to your TV regardless of what service the content is on--Seamless (vs. now you can use Buddy TV, NextGuide, Matcha or Fanhattan to Discover content, launch it to Netflix on your iPad, then with Netflix running on your PS3, play that stream to your first screen).

Now while this seems like a great leap forward for the heavy Netflix streaming user population, the real deep water here for OTT video service providers and the consumers is ironically in all of the other feature sets.  In a few of my previous blogs, we discussed the concept of "OS Level Syncing" as the promise of the future, which similar to BD-Live's current Blu-ray implementations, can be ultra-content aware of the video stream down to the frame level.  That presents opportunities for Stimulating and Social features that can create real value for the consumers (synchronized content about the TV show/movie like the actors currently on screen vis-a-vis TVplus, the history or related facts behind the fictional setting in zeetag-like fashion, commerce opportunities to buy that special biker jacket a-la Sons of Anarchy from Magic Ruby, or even just a time-synced, curated Twitter feed to create an asynchronous community of viewers).  It also creates advertising and brand engagement opportunities with consumers including better product placement, better gamification opportunities, and brings the promise of contextual advertising one step closer to reality.  Because the OTT video service provider knows EXACTLY where your video stream is (and presumably with good metadata from a company like DigitalSmiths or Watchwith, what is in the frame/scene), they have the opportunity to take each of these use cases to the next level in terms of a robust, integrated consumer experience (works better than audio content recognition).  Suddenly, 55,0000 titles of streaming on Netflix or all of the streams available on Amazon, Hulu or Vudu become immersive consumer engagement opportunities for major brands and sponsors in pre-recorded features on a level never imagined outside of class broadcast TV.

So the real question here is simple: Is this Netflix experiment the sign of things to come from Netflix based on (boring) utility features (Simple), or is this the tip of the second screen iceberg of commercial opportunity from the largest streaming service in the world (Stimulating, Social, Discovery)?

Choosing episodes from a series without interrupting the 1st Screen 

iPhone UI for choosing where to play content

Subtitling management function on the iPhone

Choosing episodes on the iPhone

Browsing content without interrupting the 1st Screen

1st and 2nd Screen shown together

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