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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?

Being able to control the action from your tablet is the icing on the cake, and gives social media mavens or information junkies a neat way to interact with their favorite shows.

The same goes for the Slingbox, provided you also own a Roku or Apple TV. This is an even bigger advantage if you're still wedded to a cable subscription, as the Slingbox will be aware of what you're watching on live TV, and pull in things like sports statistics or what the hoi polloi thinks about the moment's news. Compare that to something like the mobile incarnation of Netflix: gobs of stuff to watch there, and it pairs with the Chromecast rather nicely, but wouldn't it be great if the app did more than just sit there during playback?

More importantly, Amazon and Slingbox are influential players in the content distribution world, and they're paying attention to, and jumping on, the Second Screen bandwagon. This is huge. While there are a plethora of second screen apps kicking about that most of us have never heard of, big content distributors like Amazon are much more likely to get their user bases to actually use a Second Screen app. Jane Doe is probably likelier to use a function built into her Kindle Fire than figure out what IntoNow is.

While incremental, these updates also highlight a growing frustration with the old model of doing things--ham-fisted workarounds to Pay TV's limitations that will only hasten its impending demise.

Truth be told, I've always thought Slingboxes shine a spotlight on the insanity of cable subscriptions in the 21st century: you're buying one of these boxes to watch television you're already paying for, on your own terms. That's simply illogical in a world where the fantabulous $35 Google Chromecast will pipe most of the Internet onto any TV with an HDMI port. Now, couple these new developments with the slow and steady improvements to Google's Chromecast, which is steadily getting support for new services.

That there is no perfect option yet is frustrating, but expected; I'd love to be able to access my Amazon Instant Video library on my Chromecast, but I doubt such a pairing does much of anything for Amazon's bottom line. But we're slowly and steadily moving into a more sensible future where the stuff we want to watch or listen to isn't tied to a single screen or location. Second screen apps are going to be a huge part of that.


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