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Are second screen apps facing a ‘Crossing the Chasm’ moment?

One of the most popular business books over the last couple decades is Geoffrey A. Moore’s work on “Crossing the Chasm,” which argues that there’s a challenging chasm between a product’s early adoption and mainstream use. Some companies burn out after they’re unable to bridge the gap, while others are able to scale their products beyond “visionaries” to “pragmatists” who represent your average consumers.

There’s increasing evidence that second screen experiences may be facing a “Crossing the Chasm” moment. While using a tablet, phone or computer in front of TV has certainly scaled to a mainstream audience, most of that behavior is unrelated to television — and among viewers who are engaging, they’re mostly searching and social networking.

A new study released this week by the NPD Group looked at simultaneous second-screen usage (87% of respondents) and complementary usage (47% have engaged at least once), and they discovered that “apps designed to enhance second-screen engagement are not commonly used by consumers.” Added Russ Crupnick, SVP of industry analysis at NPD, “Viewers are interested in searching to find further information about TV shows they are watching, but they are not using games and other immersive applications created as a component of the programming.”

NPD is referring to the likes of Viggle, IntoNow, GetGlue, Zeebox, ConnectTV and a few other specialized second-screen apps. While each have attracted highly-engaged groups of early-adopters, arguably none of them has become a mainstream activity — at least yet.

Meanwhile, social networks continue to capture most attention tied to TV. Twitter made a big play to cross its own social TV chasm on the monetization front, partnering with Nielsen and acquiring Bluefin Labs, while ratcheting up the restrictions around its API. And Facebook, a silent social TV powerhouse, is reportedly working on a hashtag product to encourage more discovery and blunt Twitter’s on-screen dominance. And don’t forget about Facebook’s Instagram, a mobile force that’s becoming an increasingly popular platform for social TV.

With social media all but capturing the community aspect of the second screen, some specialized TV apps have increasingly emphasized discovery. Among the most popular of these apps, GetGlue is an interesting case study. Over the past 18 months, the company has shifted focus from “check-ins” to a social TV guide, leveraging its data to enable viewers to quickly find something to watch. Along the way, it briefly considered a merger with Viggle to increase audience and data scale. GetGlue’s path reminds me of Foursquare, which has resisted multiple acquisition offers and just launched a new version of its app to move away from check-ins to search. “We’re crunching all our data to show the best of what’s nearby, anywhere in the world, the second you open up the app,” Foursquare explains.

While consolidation and partnerships in the right circumstances can certainly help cross the gap, achieving “product-market fit” — a popular term in VC circles these days — is a key requirement for second screen apps to cross the chasm. Discovery is certainly a glaring opportunity, both on the first and second screens. Synchronous content also shows promise, but the trick is freeing up the resources to produce truly engaging second-screen content in the first place. While we know these opportunities exist — second screens are already sitting in the hands of millions of TV viewers — the trick is to create a product so compelling, it becomes as commonplace as your remote control. It will be fascinating to watch over the next 12-24 months to see which startups make the jump.

This will be a big topic of conversation at the Lost Remote Show in NYC on April 24th. We’re convening many of the top doers and thinkers in social TV, and we hope to see you there!

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