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Second-screen apps? Viewers say ho-hum, but execs see potential

Networks, advertisers and tech start-ups have been trying to better engage consumers who increasingly play with their smartphones and tablets while watching TV.

According to a TV industry study, they have a long way to go. 

Companies have been putting out apps that let viewers vote during reality shows, participate in polls, play trivia games and comment on the episodes with other viewers, encouraging fans to participate along with the programs rather than getting distracted by the latest memes on the Web.

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But the reviews have been lackluster, if a study by the National Assn. of Television Program Executives is any indication.

While about two-thirds of people who use so-called second screens do so to look up stuff related to the show they're watching, fewer than half have tried apps designed to let people engage directly with programs while they air. 

In the online survey of 2,500 Americans, 62% said the so-called synchronized content made the viewing experience "somewhat more enjoyable." Less encouraging was the mere 13% who said the second-screen tech makes their sofa-bound activities "much more enjoyable." 

In other words, viewers just aren't that into the apps. In fact, people who don't use the synched-up digital offerings say they aren't really interested.

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It seems that people who use their smartphones while watching their favorite shows are only doing so to distract themselves during commercials -- not good for advertisers -- though they do often look up websites related to the show. 

But whether today's viewers are into it or not, programmers plan to continue to create ways for people to engage online. 

In a separate study, consisting of interviews with 19 show runners (including Vince Gilligan of "Breaking Bad"), the television executives association said second-screen technology has "great potential" for the TV industry. 

However, the tech will need serious improvement. Aside from reality shows, sports and news, only a handful of shows -- such as “The Walking Dead,” “The Office” and “Scandal” -- have effectively taken advantage of the changing consumer habits. 

After all, it must be hard to compete with all those "Mad Men" and "New Girl" GIFs.  

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ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

Twitter: @rfaughnder

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