I was very nervous when I made my plans for attending the south-by-south-west conference. I was scared that the conference was getting too big. Would the conference be dominated by the poseurs and wannabes? Would the startup crowd with dreams of grandeur make every presentation a feebly costumed marketing pitch? This fear was dispelled in my first session.
HBO's Answer to Churn
HBO2Go has been a big hit with viewers and has been a well recognized leader in the mobile engagement space. What is just beginning to come into focus is that their engagement level with viewers is so high, that they have actually been able to shift existing behaviors and even create new ones.
The HBO2Go offering has created a fully accessible portal into the full catalog of original content that HBO has been creating for more than a decade. Being able to watch a series in its entirety has now become a norm amongst many viewers and the wealth of high quality content from current and past years is a reason to both acquire and keep a subscription.
HBO's second screen viewing experience for Game of Thrones is at the forefront of bringing hyper-engaged viewers closer and closer to the content. The wealth of rich media, bonus and exclusive content is so deep that it brings new meaning to the term "immersive experience." Watching "Game of Thrones" with an iPad on your lap is halfway between watching a TV show and playing World of Warcraft. One would think that the different challenges between paid subscription TV and broadcast TV would breed different solutions. Given the direction that ABC has gone, one might have to think again.
ABC's Answer to Time Shifting
It's been clear for a long time now that time shifting consumers and DVRs are a threat to advertising supported media companies. Responses have ranged from legal fights to integrating advertising into programs. ABC has found a very promising and different strategy in its still evolving second screen experience offering.
Two years ago, ABC launched a paid "back stage pass" app for the Oscars with limited success. One year ago, the app evolved and was monetized with advertising. The free app spurred a 1000 percent increase in downloads and ABC knew it had something special. This year, the real potential has been revealed for those with a sharp eye. I'm not certain if it was intentional or not, but with access to exclusive content with real time listening to the live programming ABC has come very close to creating a compelling reason to not time shift your viewing experience.
We all know that live events like sports and the Oscars have for the most part evaded the advertisement death knell of the DVR viewing experience. While there is some time shifting, pausing and fast-forwarding going on for these events, it is minimal when compared to the DVR effect on other programming. ABC's Oscars app has shown the potential to drive this behavior to zero for hyper-engaged program viewers of ANY program, up to and including non-live programming.
The Inevitable Mashup
Having second screen experiences sync to what they are hearing is not new. Having a second screen experience offer exclusive content is not new either. What is new is only unlocking exclusive content when a second screen hears a commercial complete. This possibility is a game changer for broadcast providers, marketers, agencies, content creators and others.
HBO2Go's designers have adhered towards a principle of "massive adaptability" because they know that cookie cutter second screen experiences will not create the level of engagement that creates immersion (e.g., the experience that drives fans of "Girls," will not draw in lovers of "Bill Maher" and definitely won't enamor the fans of "Game of Thrones.")
Strangely enough, Microsoft is once again returning to relevance by teaming with HBO to use its Smart Glass application to drive the vision of massive adaptability into reality by adding a completely new dimension to the television experience. Television watchers, creatives, interactive designers and engineers everywhere seem to have a lot to look forward to. Watching a commercial or two is a small price to pay for a future that bright. Wouldn't it be great if the golden age of television is actually in the future, rather than the past?