I finally had a chance to try the second Media-Sync enabled episode with ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy iPad app four nights after it aired on 2/10/2011. I was not expecting any new features without an app update since last week’s premiere, but there were some pleasant surprises in the synchronized content feed.
Backstage Bonus Trivia Added
The biggest new synchronized feature was a “Bonus Trivia” question to unlock a “Backstage Bonus.” A module appeared occasionally to say if I answered the next trivia question, I would unlock bonus content. The actual trivia question module appeared a few seconds later. After answering the question correctly, the trivia question space was replaced by an image and text about the episode. What happens if you answer incorrectly? Nothing much. It’s a forgiving quiz. I picked a wrong answer on purpose (because I know my Grey’s Anatomy), an X appeared on it, and I was able to still tap the right answer to see the bonus content.
Another new feature was a Twitter-like module for commenting on a plot point in the show. You could enter up to 140 characters to respond to the question, “Do you think Meredith is making the right choice by staying on Derek’s Alzheimer’s trial?” The module said “we need to know your name” before I could participate and had three lines of legalese about how Nielsen and ABC could use my message in any way they want without compensation. I decide not to call my lawyer and just typed my name (“Wes Williams”). Unfortunately, I got an error message that my “alias is too long; it must be 10 characters or less.” That would have been nice to know before typing my name. It was confusing for a second since the error was the first use of the word “alias.”
Despite the similarity to Twitter, this didn’t appear to be connected to the microblogging service. Each comment featured a “Report Abuse” link. There were also buttons to refresh the comments and to view more comments in a pop-up in-line browser. I counted 49 comments at the time, mostly consisting of a “Yes” response to the question. Perhaps a question that doesn’t result in a yes/no answer would elicit more interesting responses. The only thing I wondered was why this non-Twitter comment function was included when the app already includes synchronized modules for commenting on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps this is the first step in some future commenting function.
Synchronized E-Commerce: Scrubs for Sale
I saw one cosmetic glitch with the ABC Store Web site linked from the app for buying medical scrubs like those seen on the show. The link in the module opened an in-line browser for the e-store, but the store appears to not be completely iPad-friendly. First, because the whole Web page would not fit in the in-line browser, I had to figure out that I needed to swipe around to see everything. Second, the site background turned to black at the points past the edges for the browser window when it initially loaded. So the lesson may be to not rely on sites being iPad-friendly, especially for an in-line browser window.
All About the Timing
The timing of some content modules still felt like hit or miss to me. Sometimes information about what was happening appeared at the end of the scene. For example, one box referred to an editor’s choice of a background sound to coincide with a doctor flashing a handsome grin. I had to rewind my TiVo HD to see and hear what the box explained. If I didn’t have a TiVo, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate that trivia as much.
The timing was spot on in a scene where the character Dr. Lexie Gray was eating candy. It explained the actress doesn’t like peanut butter cups, yet had to eat 25 while shooting this. That made watching her eat candy in the scene even more interesting.
Ads from Lexus, the exclusive sponsor again this week, always appeared exactly as the show went to commercial break. Ads also appear attached to content modules in the feed. I think all the ads were the same as in the previous episode, which isn’t too surprising given the production effort to create them and the early stage of these iPad apps. These were all probably custom-made ad for the app since they include quizzes and video players. Imagine a day when we can build one set of interactive ads that will run on multiple apps and platforms.
I hit a moment of module overload at the end of the show. Modules for Lexus, Music of Grey’s Anatomy and a closing thank you message appeared almost simultaneously. Together they are tall enough that it nearly pushed the Lexus trivia/ad module below the scroll point even in portrait mode before I could see it.
Social Viewing in the Same Room
I am still curious to see how a two-screen synchronized experience can be incorporated in shared viewing. My wife was busy playing “Angry Birds” on her iPhone while I was watching the show on TV and using the Grey’s Anatomy app on our iPad. I read a lot of the trivia aloud, but realized I may have been annoying her with every tidbit.
As I was using the TiVo remote, I wondered whether this Media-Sync app records and reports analytics on fast-forward use.
The content in this episode’s synchronized feed was interesting and enjoyable. It shows that as much as we can get caught up in the technology of interactive TV, it’s the content that really drives the experience. The difficult part is always getting details like how many peanut butter cups an actress ate shooting a scene. It requires coordination with production teams far removed from the app-building process and taking a holistic view of interactive content.
Just thinking aloud here…
- How far can behind-the-scenes content take us?
- If specific content about the episode is lacking, could you use other related content to drive interest? For example, would a Grey’s Anatomy app be as interesting with only info on real-life medical cases (like ones used in the app already) without any production notes?
- Could a synchronized app rely on just social media integration and still be as engaging?
- Would you ever want to do one app for a network that acts as a synchronized social media center for all the network’s shows? If you did, would it compete with apps made for individual shows? Could you do both and just connect them with a central database so it didn’t matter which app someone used?
Final content count for the synchronized content feed from this episode:
- Music of Grey’s Anatomy 5
- Grey’s Anatomy: Did You Know? 1
- Lexus ad banner 6
- Lexus ad banner/video combo 2
- Lexus ad banner/trivia question combo 4
- Grey’s Anatomy: Editor’s Choice: 1
- Grey’s Anatomy: Medical Case File 5
- Grey’s Anatomy: Trivia (quiz – non-bonus) 4
- Grey’s Anatomy: Bonus trivia questions 3 (plus 3 modules a few seconds before the question to alert you it’s coming)
- Grey’s Anatomy: From The Writer’s Room 1
- Grey’s Anatomy: Check-In on Facebook or twitter 3
- Poll 8
- Comment on Facebook 1
- ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy Sync – Thanks for watching module 1