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What is second-screen content? By Richard Godwin

Blog | By Richard Godwin | Aug 29, 2023


Second-screen content is stuff you watch while simultaneously looking at your phone. According to one report by Google, three-quarters of British people – and 93 per cent of young people – now watch TV in this way.

Or should that be don’t watch TV? It’s more common to use, say, Keeping Up with the Kardashians as general room ambience, something to have on while you scroll through TikTok. Or a Premier League match as mood music while you place bets on other, more exciting matches. Nothing has our undivided attention any more.

Don’t shake your head. I bet you’ve become embroiled in the family WhatsApp as slugs mate slimily on Wild Isles. Or looked up an interesting rose varietal featured on Gardeners’ World, only to become lost in the thorns of Instagram. Or perhaps you cannot watch Question Time without tweeting about how annoying Fiona Bruce is.

It’s not your fault. The finest minds of a generation have worked extremely hard so that we all exist in a state of permanent distraction and are thus more susceptible to their malign moneymaking schemes.

It’s surprising just how invested many TV producers are in the idea of this multi-front assault. You’d imagine that if you were, say, Netflix, you’d want people to watch Netflix. Apparently not. ‘What the streamers want most right now is “second-screen content”, where you can be on your phone while it’s on,’ one screenwriter complained to the New Yorker recently.

The so-called Golden Age of TV that produced high-quality shows such as Mad Men and Game of Thrones is over. The streamers have figured out that most viewers don’t want novelistic complexity. They want something that isn’t too hard to follow, while you’re bidding on eBay or completing a Wordle.

That’s why the streaming giants (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+ etc) pay top dollar for classic 1990s shows such as Friends, Seinfeld and The Simpsons. And it explains innocuous Netflix fluff like Emily in Paris. It’s non-event TV. It’s ambient TV. It’s second-screen content.

Meanwhile, you just know some Californian money man is currently looking at those striking screenwriters and wondering, ‘Why not get AI to do the writing and be done with it?’

Richard Godwin