The release of the Ofcom Communications Market Report is always interesting as a guide to the viewing habits of our great nation. One of the most interesting take-aways from the last one was the phrase “media meshing”. Ofcom reckons 25% of people are regularly using devices “to interact with, or communicate about” what they’re watching.

The second screen concept is nothing new for broadcasters – some programmes have been encouraging dialogue by promoting hashtags for several years now – but what’s interesting about the Ofcom report this time round is that it’s started tracking the use of companion apps.

It was at only at three per cent last year but expect to see it rocket in 2014 and beyond as broadcasters find new ways to drive interaction with their viewers.

What’s currently yet to be explored too much is how these second screen apps can be used not just to entertain and engage, but also to deliver valuable feedback about how and when individual shows are being consumed. If broadcasters are going to fully take advantage of the shift in viewing habits, it’s key that they can find more exact ways of tracking viewing patterns.

Nielsen’s tracking techniques are helpful to an extent, but digital media has made it necessary to find other methods that can track audience consumption patterns across multiple platforms, especially as, according to Ofcom, “one in four viewers use their devices to talk about, or contact, the programme while they are watching”.

Nielsen itself acknowledges the impact second screen is having on viewing figure, showing that “Twitter drives tune-in…for linear television programming”. But as OfCom’s report notes, not all viewers watch via linear channels, so what about mobile and tablet viewers?

It’s perfectly possible for second screen apps to – using audio watermarking – gather deep audience insights directly through viewers’ mobile devices (with, of course, their permission). Whether consumed live or on catch-up, broadcasters can use the technology to develop a more detailed understanding of the consumption patterns of shows at any time. For example, which elements of shows have been perceived favourably, or which characters resonated the most with the audience. Tailored content will be at the heart of successful broadcasting in the future, so anything that helps broadcasters achieve this should be their main focus.

Habits will continue to evolve, and it’s inevitable that we’ll see innovative new second screen apps and content to help engage viewers like never before. If data from these interactions is captured and fed back accurately, it can help to provide valuable insight in addition to the linear TV audience data that already exists. New technologies won’t replace the existing ranking systems, but they must be used in conjunction. The combined insight could be extremely powerful and is the next step towards a real-time view of audience reactions, whether online or offline, to any TV programme. Once this happens, commissioning decisions can be made more intelligently to help secure the future of broadcast TV.