Networks experiment with show-specific apps


Over the past couple years, major networks have been utilizing apps in an effort to engage viewers and locate participants for various live television shows. This second screen usage, while not perfect yet, is quickly integrating with television to create interactive audience moments.

The broadcasters seem to be figuring if people are going to be using second-screens anyway, they might as well be doing it in direct correlation to what’s on the first screen.

Last autumn, NBC launched a groundbreaking new game show, “The Million Second Quiz.” Hosted by the hardest-working man in showbiz – Ryan Seacrest – players participated in a time-based trivia competition.

An official connected device app was launched with the show, allowing viewers at home to answer the exact same trivia questions simultaneously with the player on live TV. The endeavor was so successful that during the show’s premiere, the app crashed as it became the number one free app in the Apple Store.

Million Second Quiz app
Million Second Quiz app
“Good news: we flooded the #msq app with players! Bad news; we crashed the system!!!” Seacrest tweeted out on behalf on NBC. The errors were quickly fixed.

The app also offered people watching from their couches with the opportunity to actually be on the show itself – provided a user achieved a certain score in the game, they would get the chance to submit an application. During each episode, a local news crew would surprise someone at their residence informing them that they had been selected and would soon be whisked away to their nearest airport. Around 300,000 individuals qualified.

While millions were engaged, ratings fell towards the end of the show, and many believe confusion with the app may have let to that. Overall, the scheme proved that audiences were willing to watch live television and interact with their screens.

This past June, ABC took a similar tack. Inspired by an Israeli singing competition, producers debuted “Rising Star.” A musician stands behind a wall of LED screens, and while performing, viewers at that moment utilize an app to decide whether or not they should progress – the contestant acquires success with more than 70% of the vote and the wall ascends. Judges Brad Paisley, Ludacris and Kesha also provide an extra boost with their own votes.

"I think this changes the rules. In Israel it clearly changed the rules, because it came out gangbusters. It’s sort of a combination of a massive talent show and, to some degree, 'The Gong Show.' You are literally voting live," said ABC president Paul Lee, describing the concept in January.

Rising Star app
Rising Star app
Executive producer Nicolle Yaron stressed the importance of the app in terms of the show’s overall concept.

“It’s not just part of the show,” Yaron said. “It is the show. There’s no way to do the show without the app. It is not a second-screen experience. It is the experience.”

The principal cast members agree, with Ludacris describing the technology as “revolutionary.”

Unlike “The Million Second Quiz,” the ratings for “Rising Star” appear to be rising over time, which bodes well for the series, and for this trial-and-error period of app-governed television.

It’s entirely possible that most, if not all, major network competition shows will involve audience apps in the near future.

Author: Brian Cameron

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