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TV services are finally grasping the importance of the 'second screen'

Nate Ralph | Nov. 20, 2013
Show of hands: how many of you keep a phone or tablet at the ready when you're watching television?

Show of hands: how many of you keep a phone or tablet at the ready when you're watching television?

I do. I imagine TV execs get giddy at the thought of fans Tweeting and Facebooking and otherwise "engaging with the brand" but I'm mostly scouring Wikipedia to figure out what old actors are up to nowadays.

The "technical" term for my tablet here would be a "second screen" device. There are plenty of third-party apps and services that'll work all sorts of dark magicks, analyzing audio streams and the like from our television sets in an attempt to serve up episode guides and contextualized social networking fluff. But thus far, if you're looking for extra info whilst binge-watching from your preferred streaming service it's far easier to just pop over to Google.

But a curious thing happened on Monday in the world of Second Screen. Amazon announced Kindle Fire OS 3.1, and Sling Media upgraded its SlingPlayer app to version 3.0., and buried in those announcements both services added or revamped their "second screen" support. This with the express purpose of letting couch potatoes web search or blather socially within the walls of the Kindle or Sling ecosystems.

Let's start with Kindle Fire OS 3.1, which tacks on a number of features of interest to fans of the Android-based tablet. The new Second Screen functionality will let Kindle Fire HD and HDX owners to move the Amazon Instant Video content they're watching on their tablet onto their TV--provided they own a Samsung television, or a PlayStation 3. That frees up the mobile device to do typical Second Screen stuff like Googling who that actor is, or tweeting spoilers in real-time. It also gives remote control functionality to the mobile device.

The SlingPlayer update offers much of the same. Slingbox's place-shifting devices already let you watch Pay-TV content on web-connected mobile devices. The latest update extends their support to Apple TV and Roku set top boxes, and turn your mobile device into an information portal crammed with relevant information and social network chatter.

That's two distinct approaches to reach a similar goal: giving us new ways to interact with our TVs, while diverting oft-distracted eyeballs back into Amazon and Sling Media's apps.

The Kindle Fire's second screen sharing functionality sounds rather limited, as you'll need a PlayStation 3 (PS 4 support coming soon) or particular Samsung TVs to get in on the action. But if you already own the right hardware Amazon's devices are in a rather attractive spot. They're naturally wedded to Amazon's ecosystem, and a nifty new Fire coupled with a $79 annual Amazon Prime membership (one of the best deals around, FYI) nets you a ridiculous amount of commercial-free content, available on screens large and small, on demand.


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