Emmys TV Academy Commits to Interactive

More awards on tap to keep up with dizzying array of TV apps

TV’s increasing efforts to target viewers across platforms is connecting with one important audience: the TV Academy. For this year’s edition of Primetime Emmys, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is doubling down on its commitment to show love for interactive programming.

The Academy’s 12-year-old interactive media peer group — 627 members strong and one of the Acad’s fastest-growing entities — will move from two to five awards in recognition of the growing diversity of offerings in the field.

“Look, there’s all these things going on,” says Lori H. Schwartz, governor of the Academy’s interactive media peer group. “The Emmys need to be leading in recognizing them.”

Chief among the changes is the establishment of a competitive award for outstanding interactive program, saluting either a standalone experience or one that serves as a companion to a TV program. In the Emmy context, “interactive” denotes anything that encourages proactive engagement from the audience — not to be confused with video content delivered via broadband, such as Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

The Academy also has expanded the existing juried Emmy for creative achievement in interactive media to include four areas of competition: multiplatform storytelling, original interactive program (not tied to an existing TV show), social TV experience and user experience/visual design. Each will be presented at the Creative Arts segment of the Emmys, not on the main broadcast.

The juried award allows for multiple winners in its category if the judging panel deems them worthy (or no winners if the opposite is the case). The new category for top interactive program is a conventional head-to-head showdown. Each will be presented at the Creative Arts segment of the Emmys, not on the main broadcast.

Last year the interactive category presented its award to the Team Coco Sync App, tied to TBS latenight talker “Conan.” ABC.com won an interactive honor at two of the previous three Emmys, for 2011’s “Oscar Digital Experience” and 2009’s “Lost” companion “The Dharma Initiative.” NBC.com’s “The Jimmy Fallon Experience” has won multiple times.

— Jon Weisman

Submitted for Your App-roval

Here are five of the best interactive offerings released over the past year:

Sons of Anarchy

The third-generation app elevated this FX drama head and shoulders above the rest of the second-screen scene in time for its fifth season. It serves up a lot more than the usual array of trivia and episode information, including an e-commerce engine offering hundreds of merchandise tie-ins, and visually stunning navigation decked out like the series’ clubhouse setting. The app synchronizes companion content regardless of whether you’re watching live or recorded episodes, in addition to connecting to the fourth season on Blu-ray.

Disney Junior Appisodes

An appisode seamlessly blends the narrative flow of a TV episode with oodles of call-outs that get kids involved. Kids 2-7 respond directly to fourthwall-breaking questions from iconic Disney characters who “listen” via the iPad/iPhone/iTouch microphone. Expect lots of grimy fingerprints, too, as young viewers shake, swipe, tilt and tap the device in educational games interspersed throughout each appisode. Bowing last year as a free offering, Disney relaunched a $4.99 version earlier this month with multiple episodes.

Bravo Play Live

There are plenty of second-screen applications that allow for synchronized fun on the fly, but it’s rare to see any in which that interactivity is reflected back instantly on the first screen. Play Live allows viewers to respond to onscreen polls, questions and contests in which their input affects the tallies in real time from “Watch What Happens Live” to “It’s a Brad Brad World.” Participation TV has seen plenty of experimentation, largely through text-messaging, but this is a more seamless upgrade available via Web, phone or tablet.

Braindex

Plenty of unscripted TV shows have companion apps, but here comes an iPad app that is an unscripted show unto itself. Braindex is a gameshow in which the player faces off against celebrity contestants, from Mike Tyson to Andy Milonakis, by attempting to answer multiple-choice trivia questions faster than they can. From Endemol-owned production company 51 Minds Entertainment and start-up TouchFrame, Braindex has the kind of simple but slick interface and cheeky spirit that make it mildly addictive. You won’t play just once.

NBA Game Time App on XBox Live

Game Time may be available everywhere from Android to Sprint, but it’s on XBox Live where b-ball fans can tap this app for the widest set of features, including navigation via the voice/motion recognition provided by Kinect or the second-screen wizardry of Smartglass. Use either to wade through video highlights, game recaps, live stats and, if you’ve got an NBA League Pass Broadband subscription, up to four live games at once. User experiences do not get any deeper in the living room.

— Andrew Wallenstein

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