What can Simon & Garfunkel usefully contribute to ‘dual screen’ TV production?

It was during the opening sequence to Jennifer Lebeau’s fine 2011 documentary on Simon & Garfunkel and the making of their legendary album ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ (BBC ‘Imagine, The Harmony Game’) that Paul Simon casually voiced to camera that Simon & Garfunkel were in ‘the harmony game’. Writing songs and making records.

The documentary then proceeded to ripple and articulate compelling insight, edited and presented by the BBC’s Alan Yentob, into what that meant in terms of both the creative process and the commitment to the highest production values in making the record, innovating to push the boundaries. Focusing on content plus performance, track by track.

So, here’s the analogy – the making of an exemplary, ‘good’ album such as ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ speaks to everything that makes good, enjoyable TV for an audience, scene by scene, frame by frame. Yes, and no  surprises so far- in well-produced broadcast TV productions, creative and production processes similarly integrate to deliver ‘good TV’ and have done for years.

But this approach to TV is now increasingly challenged as TV viewing behaviours become more ‘social’ (multi-screen), more distracted. The challenge comes from the ‘convergence’ of  broadcast TV and ‘online’ / ‘mobile’ (“digital”) in the ‘connected’ TV world and this remains a bumpy junction with both sets of interests creatively colliding for viewer attention, and remain anything but ‘in harmony’ in front of that viewer.

If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, two unique artists and voices can work as a duo in complete performance harmony to make a great album … what is the transferable learning for two screens in the TV world, from one duo to another.

The advent of so-called “second-screen” TV apps has surfaced a creative problem that prevents this harmony from organically happening – it has exposed the imagination gap that exists in TV formats for the connected generation and the lack of relevant creative and production skills to begin to address it.

Bridge over Troubled Water can be seen, rightly, as a ‘content plus performance’ masterpiece, stand-out songs, deftly sequenced, innovatively produced, and faultlessly engineered. Most cited is the track ‘The Boxer’- over 100 hours to record across multiple locations, taking ‘content’ craftsmanship and production perfection to a new standard.

The ‘content’ itself – the songs – is king; the story-telling, the lyrics, the melodies, the chord structures, the rhythm and tempo. The song is then enhanced in production with unique vocals, beautiful harmonies, all carefully synchronised in a good groove for full performance effect

And the core team of musicians were a hand-picked, tight unit of proven exponents in their art and the sound engineer, Roy Halee was top of his game. This combined know-how was crucial to the delivery of the performance now cast in history on the released recording.

So, if you too are serious about two-screen TV, maybe seek out and watch ‘The Harmony Game’ with a view to re-thinking what makes a good TV show in a future world of well-designed dual-screen TV formats.

Contact : Keith Johnson


©SyncScreen 2014 All Rights Reserved

CBBC confirms 15% conversion rate for Gory Games Play-along App

London, 10th July 2014

At last week’s Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield, SyncScreen™, innovators in the creation and delivery of harmonised two-screen TV experiences, talked about some of the success secrets behind the ‘Gory Games’ play-along app which ran for 15 episodes through May on CBBC. SyncScreen explained the production workflow for the integrated two-screen play-along apps:

The BBC confirmed the success of the Gory Games play-along app, with Gory Games peaking at a 15% conversion rate for viewers playing along and with over 100,000 downloads of the app.
CBBC has been experimenting with “play along” apps for shows including Horrible History Gory Games and Ludus and in 2014, with children able to answer questions alongside the on-screen contestants. Ludus also achieved a conversion rate of between 10% and 15% and achieved over 100,000 downloads. Both apps are powered by the SyncScreen.

Contact: Keith Johnson



SyncScreen™ powers Gory Games Play-along App for CBBC

London, 9th June 2014

SyncScreen, innovators in the creation of harmonised two-screen TV experiences, has announced it is powering the first ever play-along quiz app for CBBC’s Gory Games . Designed to be used with the ever-popular Horrible Histories spin-off quiz show Gory Games, the app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones lets children take on the studio contestants, test their knowledge of gruesome facts and win virtual prizes whilst watching the show live, or on-demand on BBC iPlayer.

The app design and user experience was produced by SyncScreen and is powered by the company’s proprietary synchronisation technology

This is the second synchronised play-along app for a CBBC show that is powered by the SyncScreen, however the Gory Games app is the first fully produced by the SyncScreen, creatively optimising the power of the underlying technology to produce a best-in-class play-along app that will set the benchmark in this emerging entertainment space.

The first app powered by the SyncScreen was for the CBBC series Ludus and involved synchronising more traditional app mini-games to the studio game show. In that case the attendant play-along app was designed by Cube Interactive and was launched in January 2014.

SyncScreen works with all major audio-watermarking vendors solutions, using Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology at its core to enable the app to listen to the TV show and to detect real-time interaction events that are fully synchronised with the content on the TV


SyncScreen™ is a two-screen TV production company, specialising in ‘play-long’ TV format development/refreshment and associated 2-screen app production for children’s TV.

Contact: Keith Johnson


Are play-along apps appropriate for kids?

Can children play along and watch TV?

SyncScreen is one of the first UK companies to have developed working play-along apps (or so-called “second-screen” apps) for children that they can use alongside a TV show…
But given our collective history working in the children’s sector, we’ve all be very conscious that we can’t make assumptions about what’s appropriate or how children can or should react. That’s why this last year I’ve done more one-to-one testing than on any product I’ve worked on since specialising as in the children’s digital media space.

Having worked in children’s sector for the last seven years (and in digital for the last 20), I was personally curious to see how a dual-screen experience could be made to work for young children and at what ages of children could cope with instructions from more than one device at a time. The last thing we wanted to do was be criticised for adding yet more distractions or fuelling the attention deficit generation. So we took an evidence based approached and tested our ideas iteratively over the best part of a year.

From my previous work at CBeebies, I know even very young children are competent on apps and websites, but can they really watch TV and do something at the same time? Would it be too much for them, particularly as we all know children can get so mesmerised by TV? These were the sorts of questions we needed answers to and two of recent development jobs have helped us get a much better understanding of what does and doesn’t work.

Turn me into Mister Maker – 4-6 year olds

In 2013, SyncScreen partnered with Zodiak (courtesy of the IC Tomorrow and the Technology Strategy Board) to create a proof of concept for the art show Mister Maker. This was tested with 4-6 year olds and the results were analysed by Professor Lydia Plowman (Chair of Education and Technology, University of Edinburgh). She noted how the prototype allowed for the children to successfully shift their attention from one screen to the other (attentional control) and how we had sufficient taken steps to ensure that the cognitive load (i.e. the amount of mental activity required to hold information and to perform a function) was appropriate. In fact, instead of creating distraction, when the two screens were both promoting the same ‘single global task’ (as opposed to requiring a multi-tasking approach) the children seemed more attentive than ever and Professor Plowman independently highlighted the positive learning potential of this approach on future projects.

Although it seems self-evident now, with the Mister Maker project, success was all down to the pacing and timing, making sure the different on-screen visuals and narrative matched perfectly and not asking a child to do too much in the app when a lot was happening on the TV screen.

What I saw from the children was that they were overjoyed to be able to make something that was as good as Mister Maker’s and they clearly still enjoyed watching the show. The parents liked it too, pleased that their child could join in without necessarily covering the house in glitter and glue.

Quiz me on Gory Games – 7-11 year olds

More recently SyncScreen has been working on partner apps for CBBC. I’ve been working on the Horrible Histories: Gory Games app (live in May 2014). The premise is simple – the child at home plays against the studio contestants by answering the same quiz questions in real time. The simplicity of the Gory Games quiz lends itself particularly well to two- screen – there’s no learning involved for how to play – simply sit down, turn on the app and like magic you can play along by guessing true/false or multiple choice answers.

In testing this app, I’ve noticed that these older children (age 7 and up) are clearly able to cope with the two devices at once and have not had any trouble adjusting to looking up and down. They have most fun playing next to each other on a device each (e.g. a phone and a tablet, if households can stretch that far) so they can compare scores. It’s usual to hear “Yesssssss!” when they get a question right and “How many poos have you got?” (Poos being the points icon, in true Horrible Histories’ style.) There has also been a lot of laughing, not least because of the brilliant scripts from the Citrus/Lion TV team.

Timing is key

For both Mister Maker and Gory Games we’ve developed code that logs how long interactions take and this has been really useful in setting our benchmarks for pacing in the app and the show. We’ve worked with the programme makers to create shows with enough breathing space and this is the basis for all successful dual screen products. Ideally we should be working with programmes in pre-production, rather than with finished episodes.

Kids can do it

What I’ve realised is that children can play along with TV shows – even very young children – and that it’s a question of fine-tuning the app and the programme to complement one another. We’ve been talking about a 360-degree approach for many years and this is essential in play-along production. But what I’ve realised most is that with the right editorial content and approach you can help children play and engage with TV in a new and exciting way.

Becky Palmer;  Executive Product Manager on the Gory Games play-along app production

For more information, contact Keith Johnson

©SyncScreen 2014 All Rights Reserved

So-called “second-screen” was a phase that’s over

So-called “second-screen” is not a consumer proposition.

Anything to do with two screens in the TV viewing context is now labelled “second-screen”.

It’s become one of those lazy (and misleading) consumer usage terms and completely fails to capture the momentum of the new and evolving consumer behaviour around TV viewing. It’s come to mean the bolting on of interactive tech to existing TV programmes to see what might happen with the consumer experience, and it hasn’t engaged them at all. There are limited examples of a successful “second-screen” project, with a business case to match.

So the conversation must evolve if the opportunity is to be grasped. the terms of reference updated.

We are undoubtedly at the early stages of a new market for two-screen TV editorial, teased by the new consumer behaviours we are witnessing at the meeting point of broadcast TV and digital (“online”) behaviours. Very slowly this is stimulating necessary new industry thinking about the future creative/content/format market for TV

For that TV content market to professionally evolve, the sustained use of the term “second screen” is blurring the opportunity, narrowing creative application and not addressing the need for more disciplined approach to two-screen editorial exploration at a more professionally planned, strategic (consumer) marketing level.

Call it two-screen, dual-screen, companion- screen, play-along …. whatever best defines the user behaviour.

But, let’s leave “second-screen” for the history book

Keith Johnson

©SyncScreen 2014 All Rights Reserved

“We are in the harmony game”

Quote courtesy of Paul Simon re Simon & Garfunkel

SyncScreen is at the forefront of best creative practice in the design, development and production of harmonious two-screen experiences/formats. No bolted-on tech here.

Keith Johnson