“Second screen” is a buzz word that’s been thrown around the TV and tech industries. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a second screen, like a smartphone or tablet, that viewers use while watching TV.

You’ve probably used a second screen without even thinking about it – for example, if you’ve ever Googled an actor’s name during a movie, or tweeted about a show while you watched.

According to a recent Nielsen survey, 88% of tablet owners and 86% of smartphone owners use their devices while they watch TV. 29% of those viewers engage in activities related to the programs they’re watching.

With developments in Internet and technology, more and more people are choosing to use a second screen. Smartphone and tablet use is nearly universal. And with the advent of new Internet technology and ever-increasing speeds, second-screening is easier – and faster – than ever.

The future of the second screen

TV broadcasters and advertisers are finding a way to capitalize on these growing numbers with second-screen applications designed to complement TV programming.

Some apps use audio recognition to display content at certain times during a program. Others show additional views of live broadcasts, like speeches, sporting events, and awards shows. A third kind offers interactive information like Twitter feeds, viewer discussions, and recommendations. Many apps dabble in all three. Some notable names to check out? ConnecTV, GetGlue, and Zeebox.

Two-way interaction

Second-screening has traditionally been one-sided. Viewers can share and interact outside the program, but they have little, if any, effect on the shows they watch. But there’s been a recent movement in the TV industry toward two-way interaction. This includes parallel competitions that accompany game shows, activities and quizzes, viewer voting for talent and reality shows, and easier ways to buy the products you see on TV and in commercials.

Get the most out of the second screen

  • Share your thoughts. One of the best things about watching TV in the age of the smartphone? Discussing your favorite shows and movies with a global community of fans. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites often function as second-screen apps. Share your reactions to plot twists and cast changes. “Live-tweet” episodes and premieres. Post links to related content you find on your second screen.
  • Win prizes. Your mom may have told you that you’d never gain anything watching TV. But that’s not necessarily true. Viggle is a second-screen app that lets you turn your TV viewing into real-life prizes. “Check in” while you’re watching to rack up points and earn prizes from brands like Gap, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble. You can also check current TV listings and chat with friends.
  • Get your favorite products. TV broadcasters want you to buy products related to their shows– like DVDs, t-shirts, and other memorabilia. And you can, with apps like Watch with eBay. But with Get This, you can also purchase items you see in TV shows, from character outfits and accessories to home décor.

We’ll have to wait to see what’s next for second screening – but it’s safe to say that it’s becoming the norm.