This week I moderated IAB Belgium’s annual Think Digital congress in Brussels. I knew a few of the speakers (the world of digital marketing and media speakers is still a small one), but it’s always interesting to rediscover what they say or discover new views – and many presentations were effectively worthwhile.

Someone I didn’t meet before was Kevin Slavin, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Starling. Kevin’s laid back way of providing great food for thought made the audience very quiet. His presentation is not online yet, but it really doesn’t matter because the slides don’t tell the story. The person does.

So, here’s a look at Kevin’s presentation and some very interesting insights about second screen engagement: TV, the way you might have never thought about it, based on some short notes I made and an increasingly poor memory.

The crossroads of digital and the real world

To understand the background of his insights, you should know that Kevin Slavin is Co-Founder of Area/Code Games, acquired in January by Zynga (yes, you can say the folks behind FarmVille but with a little respect as you will read in a later post).

Area/Code Games basically has been innovating since it was founded about six years ago, in the gaming space. However, within a very specific nice: the crossroads of what back then were emerging technologies and “the real world” (note that there was no Wii and that smartphones with built-in nifty features such as camera’s or GPS in it were scarce, if existing at all).

The games the company developed every time a new technology came around, were strongly focused on that “real world” interaction. If you ever saw people running around somewhere with a mobile in their hand and acting like complete morons, chance is they were playing a game by Area/Code Games. They may have been haunted by a virtual ghost and trying to catch their friends who were also playing the game. Location-based, indeed. When social games on Facebook popped up, the company was there as well, and every “next thing” was used for new gaming concepts.

Area/Code Games was not the only actor in those early days obviously but all these experiences provided the company inevitably with a great deal of insights on what makes people interact and engage and what are the psychological triggers that make us basically act like weirdos with a cell.

Second screen engagement: when TV meets the psychology of community and interaction

Those insights were further developed (and by the way: every business should have a very thorough insight in the complex psychology of those mammals called human beings if it wants to be customer-centric because customers are people in case you didn’t know by now) and met a medium whom many people see as a relic in this social day and age (although it is far from dead, ask any FMCG giant): TV.

As you know, TV stations and program makers, are increasingly using second screen engagement and combining the viewing experience with social interaction tools and techniques (that often bring in new revenues): the focus is clearly on involvement instead of passive TV consumption. We all know the examples of basic techniques that are used in “American Idol” formats. It’s not a coincidence we are being bombarded by such formats. I don’t watch TV but I know such a show is running when I see flyers hanging in the streets of villages or cities where contestants live, begging to vote for them. I also know when looking at the mobile company bills. When there’s a spike in SMS costs, I know what my wife has been watching.

Second screen engagement goes much further than these basic voting techniques and even way further than the ‘connected TV’ technology. Because it’s not about buttons and technology but about people and psychology.

Using TV and other media at the same time: beyond multitasking

What Kevin and his team found was that the games they did for TV shows were resulting in a high brand impact, often higher than the shows themselves.

However, the main thing they found was that viewers and users, who are one and the same, always had a special relationship with this medium called TV.

One of Kevin’s slides (and I’m sure you all have seen one of those reports, slides and whatnot), showed the multitasking behavior of today’s “consumer”. You know what I mean: x % of people tweet while watching TV, y % is using the Internet while watching TV, etc.

However, what does this really mean? Sure, our attention spans have changed, and we often use several media at the same time. What happens as well though is that people connect with each other to talk about a TV show or to simply connect with a community of others doing exactly the same thing as they do at that moment (real-time is key here).

A good and recent example I noticed was the latest Eurovision song festival. When it was broadcasted I was working, and I saw this stream of tweets and Facebook posts with people virtually talking about it.

The ability to communicate about TV shows, the feeling of doing and experiencing something together and the mere psychological fact of connecting is an extremely strong motivation for people.

Is it technology that enables us to do so? Well, obviously it partly is. However, TV has always had this community dimension. And I’m not talking about those black and white pictures now where you see whole families and even neighborhoods watching programs together in the early days of TV. I’m talking about the way people share their opinions about TV programs.

Using desynchronizing technologies to resynchronize

I grew up in the time where the first Monthy Python shows were aired, and I remember how after every show (and boy, were we eager to see a new one) all we talked about was the latest sketch. It’s not a coincidence, I always mention Monthy Python when talking about word-of-mouth.

Many people at the event this week, mentioned Kevin’s story about the “laff box” (that’s maybe for a later post) but the key takeaway of his presentation is this: TV is a synchronizing technology and with second screen engagement, we use desynchronizing technologies to resynchronize. He even said that no geolocated venue is as big as television.

Remember that, think about it, look at the power of community and the psychological need of sharing and belonging, and you’ll understand what second screen engagement is really about, regardless of the technologies or channels such as Twitter, mobile or Facebook.