The advent of tablets and similar user-friendly devices in the living room has opened up a host of new avenues for brands and content distributors and owners to reach consumers.

The world of second screens has transformed the way in which consumers interact with linear television, and most analysts and commentators agree that there will be a general growth in second screen behaviour in the next five years.

Second screen applications and services enable television viewers to use mobile phones or tablets to simultaneously connect to interactive and social media platforms while watching a primary linear programme shown on a television screen.

Examples of second screen services include applications which urge or enable a user to: post comments on Twitter/Facebook about a programme; participate in voting on who they want to win the latest reality TV show; shop online for clothes being worn on screen; or play games that link in to the programme or its branding. Many gambling services also rely on consumer second screen behaviour alongside sports games or events.

Some have said that second screen consumption creates a "lawyer's paradise" because of the potential for misuse with ambush marketing or copyright abuse. The World Cup or the Olympic Games are examples of big events where associated brands and sponsors are ruthlessly protected to the point that host nations are compelled to introduce anti-ambushing legislation.

Targeting the audience

If Facebook knows lots of football fans will be using its application during a World Cup match, then, it could in theory sell adverts to Samsung, say, despite the official event sponsor being Sony.

Data protection and privacy is another potential area for concern. Unsurprisingly, second screens are more prevalent among younger people who are generally more likely to "trade" information about themselves in exchange for receiving free content and services.

The immediacy of the data exchange most likely means that many users will not have a full appreciation of the level of information that they are making available and the control they are relinquishing.

Second-screens may also affect TV regulations in relation to product placement in shows. If a show is not allowed to carry product placement, but somebody else is allowed to place products within the second screen, regulation has to adapt.

The future of the second screen, and the laws surrounding it, will ultimately depend on whether or not companies that offer second screen services, such as Zeebox and Shazam, decide to co-operate with broadcasters and producers when producing second screen content.

Whatever happens, it's clear that second screen behaviour is here to stay, and media regulators will have to adapt their thinking accordingly.

  • Gregor Pryor is Partner and Head of Practice, Media and Technology, Reed Smith LLP
  • Jo Finch is Trainee, Media and Technology, Reed Smith LLP