"The X Factor" gave the budding world of second-screen companion experiences the most prominent showcase its ever had in the U.S. on Wednesday, the first episode of the season to encourage audience voting. So there's a lot for the TV and new-media industry to learn from this prominent experiment known as the Xtra Factor app (powered by TVplus).
On-air support: "Factor" offered a textbook example of how best to promote an appwith multiple commercials and in-show integration that featured endorsements from Simon Cowell. Viewers clearly came away with the sense that the app was an important piece of the viewing experience going forward.
iPad disadvantage: The app was offered by both iTunes Store and Android Market but the latter seemed to have a much more robust experience given the tie-in to the series' sponsor, Verizon Wireless. Without the backstage secondary camera feeds and "touch" voting straight off the platform, the iTunes experience was quite substandard (and this viewer was watching with an iPad in his lap). It's understandable if a sponsor has to play favorites, but the disparity is just too great.
Content mix: Xtra Factor app sticks to a relatively simple mix of content choices that are easily accessed through a scrolling set of titles including factoids, lyrics, videos, polls, "judge's quote," photo gallery, tweet excerpts, fashion analysis. There's some slightly more interactive options like the opportunity to buy music on iTunes that "Factor" contestants are covering; mapping the contestants' hometowns with Google maps; Facebook's "like" options and of course, the contestants' twitter feeds. All together, it adds up to something serviceable but not quite special; surely there's got to be something on the second screen that is a true value-add. One exception: Verizon Fifth Judge, which is a nifty interactive graphic that allows the user to judge contestants on a 1-5 scale in the categories of song choice, style and performance. The result kicks out to Facebook, but it would have been even nicer to see an aggregate score from home judges.
More social: Sure, Twitter and Facebook are well-represented on Xtra Factor app but it lacked true integration of the robust on-air conversation taking place. There needs to be a filtered reflection of what's being talked about. My guess is the "Fan Feed" portion of the app, which is labeled as "coming soon…," will deliver on that note, but why this wasn't ready to go is a mystery.
Synchronized, schmynchronized: From a design perspective, Xtra Factor felt a little flat. A synchronized app should be far less static to convey a sense of following along with the program in real time but there wasn't so much as a single element of the interface that displayed a little dynamism.
Again, remember this is a demonstration of the iTunes experience, not Android.