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Field of screens: it’s sport and social media for the win

Tweet success and sweet success increasingly go hand in hand. Scolirk

In the brave new world of contemporary sport-watching, the goalposts have moved. Watching the big game (once a simple matter of grabbing a beer and some chips and settling down in front of the television) has become increasingly active for those who wish it so.

The television – now a flat screen, high-definition behemoth – is still pre-eminent, but a relatively new phenomenon has emerged to complement traditional viewership.

This is known as the “second screen” and, as you might have guessed, it involves using a second device – such as a computer, tablet or smartphone – to allow interaction and engagement in addition to regular viewing.

The phenomenon is set to gather pace this year, given the ABC has partnered with CSIRO researchers to integrate Twitter and Facebook with TV shows.

In practice this will mean tweets about a show appearing over the TV image. The technology will also be able to recommend shows based on your past viewing behaviour and the viewing patterns of your Facebook friends.

Various studies have found between 68% and 86% of owners of second-screen devices use them while watching television. While not all of these are necessarily browsing content related to the program they are watching, the phenomenon is nevertheless very real.

Facilitating this already is a burgeoning range of apps such as:

  • GetGlue, a check-in based, entertainment social network
  • Fango, a similar platform, used by Channel Seven during the recent Australian Open
  • WiO, which allows users to access information about products and services they see on the primary screen.

Broadcasters are also starting to supply content in multiple ways as seen in services such as Sky Go or C-Cast. Such services allow viewers to access exclusive content or content complementary to the main broadcast program.

Of course the advent of second-screen sport-watching has also created further traffic for the dominant social media networking services – Facebook and Twitter.

The defining moment in this space came a few weeks ago with Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. The broadcast of the New York Giants vs. New England Patriots game attracted 111.3m American viewers, making it the most watched show in the history of US television.

Such was the second-screen interaction that it was also declared the biggest social television event in history.

While the broadcast attracted a relatively small increase in viewers from the previous year (111m to 111.3m) the number of social commenters increased from 793,000 in 2011 to 5.4m in 2012. Similarly, there was a near-600% growth in the number of actual comments on social media, with 12.2m comments for the 2012 event as opposed to 1.8m for 2011.

Twitter, with approximately 100m active users and counting, dominated the social conversations during the game with 12,233 tweets per second recorded for the last three minutes of the match.

Last month’s Australian Open tennis tournament also served to illustrate the rise of social media in sport, albeit at a lower level than the Super Bowl. As an early social media adopter (it was the first grand slam tournament to have its own Twitter account, in November 2008) the event now boasts more than 82,000 Twitter followers and more than 628,000 Facebook fans.

For the 2012 event a total of 222,813 tweets were sent using the #ausopen hashtag. The tournament’s media team even created a Fan Centre leaderboard to rank the top ten male and female players according to their social media mentions. Both losing finalists in the tennis – Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova – took out social leaderboard titles with 69,511 and 30,222 mentions respectively.

Lee Bennett

But the rise of social sport-viewing is not limited to those watching in the comfort of their living rooms. Modern stadia are increasingly being fitted out with technology that aims to transform the fan experience.

Consider the dual 2,100-inch HDTVs hanging less than 30 metres above the playing surface of Cowboy’s Stadium in Arlington Texas. Or there’s the pre-Rugby World Cup upgrade to Auckland’s Eden Park that boosted mobile capacity and coverage in the stadium but also allowed event staff to direct fans to their seats and control digital menus at concession outlets via 300 well-placed monitors.

Better WiFi in stadia also enables fan engagement through Twitter and Facebook and through innovative applications such as GetGlue’s geographical location counterpart, foursquare.

While we are yet to see uptake of second-screen viewing on the same scale as that experienced overseas, there’s little doubt the Australian passion for sport and social media will continue to be linked in the future.

That won’t be as competitors, of course, but as teammates.

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