Thoughts on the Television User Experience
Netflix vs. BitTorrent

Second Screen Inversion

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There is a growing phenomenon which I call second screen inversion. This is where consumers see their handheld device (smartphone or tablet) as being their primary TV device and not their traditional television set.

Today in the TV industry, PCs, tablets are smartphones are referred to as second screens; with the television set being the primary screen.  The use of the term is to cover these second screens being used to enhance the TV experience, either by making it interactive or by making it mobile. Another term currently used is “companion device” where a handheld device is used to support the television experience, especially for content discovery.

With seconds screen inversion consumers will no longer see the television set as the primary or initiating screen of their TV experience, but as a secondary screen after their handheld devices (tablets and smartphones). This does mean that the television set is not their preferred screen for viewing, but its role is as a slave to the other devices.

A key example of inverted behavior is shown with Apple TV users. With Apple TV and Apple Airplay whatever is being viewed on an iDevice (iPad, iPhone) can be pushed to a TV screen (via Apple TV). People increasingly don’t use the Apple TV remote or user interface instead preferring to find and preview content on a handheld device and then pushing it to the TV screen.

This inversion/switch impacts how consumers view their television and television service providers (their satellite or cable operator).  The quality of experience and breath of content on the handheld device will be the driver for service provider selection by these inverted consumers. Most TV service providers see the television set as their primary outlet and the set-top box as their most important presence in the consumer’s home, if they are to appeal to inverted homes they need to change their thinking and their positioning.

Today CE manufactures are building every more functionality and complexity into television sets and service providers are doing the same with set-top boxes. However in inverted homes the television (or set-top box) just needs to acts as a slave to a handheld device and can become dumber not smarter. I predict that while televisions may get bigger, may be even covering whole walls, displaying a vast variety of information, they will only do this as a slave to a handheld device.  This may require more sophisticated remote UI protocols than are available today.

The availability of powerful (and hopefully useful) natural language voice control such as Siri in the Apple iPhone 4S is another push in this shift to handhald devices. Remote controls and televisions just can’t complete with this level of processing power and service. We are far more likely to be saying “Show latest Simpsons episode on the living room television”, or better still “Show Simpsons in living room” into our mobile phones than into our TV remotes.


In this instance the term inversion is taken from Negroponte Inversion (also known as the Negroponte switch), a prediction Nicolas Negroponte made in his book “Being Digital” in 1995 that wired communication would become wireless and broadcast Television would become wired.


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