Offering parallel narrations, scene enrichment and new leisure experiences, the film App and Disney Second Screen are revolutionising the cinema experience.
In recent years, cinema attendance has been decreasing in mature markets, particularly within the European Union, where attendance fell 4.1% in 2013. In order to combat these falling numbers and to bring young audiences back to cinemas, industry stakeholders are developing with highly creative solutions. One of these approaches, known as second screen applications, has become a popular way of enriching the cinema experience.
Since the film App was released in the Netherlands in 2013 as the first second screen experience in cinema, other stakeholders such as Disney have jumped on the bandwagon.
APP: when the second screen acts as an extension of the film
Released in the Netherlands on 4 April 2013, Bobby Boermans’ thriller, App , tells the story of a young student who becomes addicted to her smartphone after downloading an application that ends up taking over her life. The film is one of the first cinema second screen experiences, where the interaction with the audience is moved to the second screen during the film and thus integrated into the narration.
How does it work?
Before entering the room, iOS and Android smartphone users are asked to download the free dedicated app, which synchronises with the soundtrack of the film. The application then interacts the action on the cinema screen, allowing the connected viewer to extend his or her experience during key scenes of the film: access to text messages sent by the characters, bomb timers, different camera angles, etc.
The 2nd screen experience was designed from the first stages of development of the film. About every five minutes, the viewer’s mobile phone vibrates to indicate that the application has generated new content. Bobby Boermans also intended the second screen experience to be as synchronised as closely as possible with the film: “It takes three seconds each time your eyes shift from the big screen to the small screen to the big screen. So with certain sequences in the film, we had to make them longer so your eyes had time to adjust and you weren’t missing out in anything essential”.
However, Boermans also wanted to ensure that the interaction would not have any impact on the narration so that the film would remain coherent without the application. There are thus two potential perspectives on the film, depending on whether or not the viewer is connected to the app. The second screen application therefore allows for a more immersive experience for the viewer and reinforces the alarming nature of certain scenes by making them more emotional for the audience.
App transformed the viewer’s experience at the cinema thanks to a 2nd screen application, which acts as an extension of the film through the interactivity it offers. The 2nd screen application is not reserved solely for the cinema screen and can be used with all media forms.
Disney Second Screen: the opportunities and limitations of 2nd screen applications for back catalogue films
Disney waited until 2010 and 2013 respectively to bring its great classics Bambi and The Little Mermaid up to date using 2nd screen applications, available on the Disney Second Screen platform.
For the second screen version of The Little Mermaid, which was released on 13 September 2013 in the United States, the lyrics of the songs have been added to the film to encourage viewers to sing along, karaoke-style, with songs like “Under the Sea” and “Part of your world”. The film also stops at regular intervals to give viewers time to answer quizzes on their tablets. Assigned to random teams at the beginning of the session, viewers win points based on their answers to quiz questions asked during the film. In contrast to App, Disney Second Screen does not offer a parallel story or narration, nor does it extend any of the scenes in the film. The second screen is intended solely to offer a new leisure experience to a young public, as the teaser for the Bambi application shows.
Disney has now expanded its second screen portfolio to include films such as Tron legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean – the Fountain of Youth, Lady and the Tramp, John Carter, Cinderella and Oz. Unlike App, whose application functions with all film formats, the Disney Second Screen application is only compatible with Blu-ray: there is no point in testing it on a downloaded version, via streaming or on your old VHS.
For Disney, this is a new way of showing its films rather than an experiment that could have been reserved for the group’s amusement parks. Releasing its major classics in the cinema and on Blu-ray with a second screen application seems to be a clever way for Disney to increase and enliven its fan base, while preparing to create a naturally transmedia project. This means that it is reasonable to expect that future Disney films will be designed for second screen from the start, based on the model of the Bobby Boermans film, and that Dreamworks (Shrek, Dragons), Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc.), which it owns, and Illumination Mac Guff (Despicable Me) will follow suit.
Disney is not the only studio to have invested in second screen applications. In 2013, Warner Bros, in partnership with Canal +, launched My Warner-Second screen, a multi-programme application that synchronises with Warner films and television series released from November 2013 onwards. In terms of content, it includes artwork, behind the scenes material, bonus material, quizzes, and includes opinions and comments drawn from social networks. My Warner – Second screen is linked to the larger My Warner platform: users’ activities on social networks and on their My Warner accounts earn them points, which can be collected and eventually redeemed against gifts such as invitations to previews of Warner films, merchandise, etc. This rewards system encourage cinema and TV series fans to participate in the My Warner community, which now numbers hundreds of thousands of members. Like Disney Second Screen, it is a companion application which allows Warner to expand and revitalise its fan base by increasing their loyalty to its brand, improving its knowledge of its customers and perhaps discouraging illegal downloading by ensuring that the application is only available for films on DVD and Blu-ray.
What does this type of application contribute to Disney back catalogue films? Undoubtedly, the second screen can prove an enjoyable addition for those who have already seen the film and who wish to rediscover it from a different angle, with more detail and content. Nonetheless, one might be forgiven for thinking that total prior immersion in the Disney universe (i.e. seeing the film in the cinema alone) might be necessary for the viewer to be able to appreciate what the application has to offer. It should also be noted that animated films attract a predominantly young audience, so the attention of the viewers may be scattered, especially in the case of the younger members of the audience. A number of child specialists are concerned about the effect of excessive exposure of young children to screens. According to Yalda Uhls, who specialises in analysing the effects of the media and new technologies on the young audience for Common Sense Media, “it is very important to engage children in a narration, and that is very difficult to do nowadays with all the distractions and stimulations that surround them. Adding a distraction in cinemas will definitely not help studios to achieve their goal of creating value or attracting an audience that will return to the cinema in the future”.
Finally, the Disney second screen experience in the cinema almost reverses the function of the second screen. The fact the film stops to give the audience time to answer quiz questions switches the attention of the audience from one screen to the other and the tablet becomes almost as important as the large screen during the experience, as if the second screen were in fact… the cinema screen. Let’s wait and see what Disney’s native transmedia films have to offer …