When tonight’s episode of “Fast N’ Loud” airs tonight at 9 p.m. on Discovery Channel, it will do so with some big hopes attached: The network is testing new techniques that could spur users of tablets and smartphones to watch the show live.
As the program about two mechanics seeking out old cars and restoring them plays on air, viewers will be invited to a “play along” game on either Discovery.com or an app called Zeebox that gives them the ability to vote on and influence the action on the show. It’s the latest layer Discovery has added to the program, which in recent weeks has also incorporated fans’ tweets in live graphics and live shots of the Dallas auto aficionados watching the program as it airs.
With more TV viewers using handheld gadgets as they watch TV (and nearly everything else they do), TV networks need to do battle with the obvious distraction the devices provide to viewers. “You cannot be blind to that,” said Conal Byrne, veep of digital media at Discovery Communications, the network’s owner. “If you are, you are at your own peril.”
For the past few years, a bevy of start-up concerns and big media conglomerates have experimented with so-called “second screen” experiences that ask TV viewers to play games, consider trivia or talk about the shows they watch while the shows are on the air. “To date, it has been largely niche,” said Jason Forbes, exec veep and managing director of Zeebox USA, a company that devised the “Fast N’ Loud” activity and counts Viacom, Comcast and NBCUniversal as minority owners. “We need to be doing a better job of getting these second-screen experiences out there.”
To make the activity surrounding tonight’s “Fast N’ Loud” experience easier to access, the network and Zeebox are making it available on Discovery’s web site, in addition to a downloadable zeebox app. The idea is that TV fans are often drawn to their TV shows’ digital properties, not necessarily an app not always linked to that TV program.
And the show’s efforts this evening’s show an evolution in the type of stuff typically included in second-screen activity. According to Forbes, the usual ideas – polling and trivia – aren’t enticing enough. During tonight’s program, viewers will be able to vote on the outcome of the program by using votes centered around custom hashtags.
Discovery intends to experiment with other play along experiences over the next three to six months with other programs, said Byrne.