How ESPN and The New York Times Build A Second Screen For Readers

BOSTON — At the Online News Association Saturday morning, Brian Hamman and Tyson Evans of The New York Times and Patrick Stiegman of ESPN hosted a session about how to dominate the “second screen” experience (you can follow the discussion from conference attendees here).

The second screen is literally what it sounds like — the screen readers look at in addition to the TV. This could be an iPad, a laptop or a phone.

According to Stiegman’s stats about Internet consumers, 85 million Americans consume both TV and the web simultaneously. This provides a huge opportunity for news organizations to serve fans in real time, alongside live events.

For an organization like ESPN, “owning the second screen” means getting readers’ eyes online and on the web for the same events. For The New York Times, this means competing with coverage primarily dominated by TV networks to provide additional engagement and information.

How The New York Times, who doesn’t control the first screen, competes with eyes for the second screen

Evans and Hamman have observed and outlined the cycle for event coverage online:

  1. Event cycle: What’s happening, how much can I get about the event before it happens?
  2. Analysis cycle: When event is started, what does it all mean?
  3. Conversation cycle: What are other people and my social circle saying and how can I chime in?

To accomodate for all three cycles of these major events, the best project to point at is The New York Times’ Oscars coverage, which was a dashboard built with three streams.

The left column was a list of who the nominees were. The middle column was live photos send via FTP from the red carpet (often times with faster delivery than TV stations). After the event started, the middle stream turned into live commentary and analysis from Times’ bloggers. During TV’s commercial breaks, they owned the middle stream by turning it into a live video. The right column (no longer shown in the above screenshot) was a realtime stream of social media conversations about the event.

On the technology side, the content streams were powered by WordPress and twitter XML feeds and the photos sent via FTP, which were served to an Amazon server and converted to .json feeds.

A diagram of their staffing structure for this project is below:

After the initial three months of development, The Times now has a framework for replicating the dashboard, and has applied it to events like The Tony’s and The U.S. Open. What they haven’t yet figured out is how to increase the shelf life for people looking at the dashboard after the event.

How ESPN controls its second screen to enhance its first screen experience

ESPN already has the eyes of sports fans who are watching games and commentary online. How they can control that second screen as well, is by providing additional context and conversation.

Statistics about online consumers, via Stiegman’s presentation:

  • 16 million people are using both Internet and TV in the average minute
  • 27 percent of all time spent with the Internet each day is also spent with TV
  • That 27 percent includes Internet users with no dual TV viewing. Looking at just simultaneous viewers, the share increases to 49 percent

ESPN puts its live streams into a game caster that pulls in social streams and scoreboards; their content is available cross platform. On the iPad, they have the ability through rights agreements for some sports to do instant analysis in a digital environment.

Beyond pulling in Twitter feeds, ESPN pulls in live discussion elements through tools like Cover It Live to provide a platform for conversation and expert analysis alongside sporting events.

Doing it all for free

If you don’t have a team of developers to spend three months building these tools (as Evans and Hammans spent on the Oscars site), there are free tools you can use to achieve the same thing:

  1. Cover it live widget for the realtime analysis
  2. Free Twitter and Facebook widgets for the conversation elements.

You can see how these tools look as a dashboard here.