Disney Experiments With 2-Screen Experience Involves iPads

The Little Mermaid Second Screen Live has opened in select theaters across the country. Children are encouraged to bring their iPad to the theater, and during the movie they become part of the story, play games and compete with the audience.

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I don't know about you, but I'm a little troubled when I hear about people who watch multiple screens. You know what I'm talking about. Maybe you're watching a movie at home while live tweeting, or while keeping track at a ballgame. At least movie theaters are a sacred space, immune to these changes.

Or not - I guess this was bound to happen. This past weekend, people lined up at movie theaters with their iPads to see something called "The Little Mermaid Second Screen Live." Instead of being told to keep quiet during the movie and turn off their devices, moviegoers were told to fire up their iPads and get ready to play. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Short attention spans: Listen up.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL, "LITTLE MERMAID SECOND SCREEN LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Interact with the film and compete with the audience. Play games. Find hidden treasure. Sing along.

BLAIR: Got all that? So here's why Disney thinks they're onto something. Research shows that kids - and adults - often use more than one device at a time. "The Little Mermaid" was a huge hit starting in 1989. So a lot of its original fans are now parents. So they have even more incentive to pay good money to see it again with their kids, but in a whole new way.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL, "LITTLE MERMAID SECOND SCREEN LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Download the app, bring your Apple iPad, and see "The Little Mermaid" on the big screen like you never have before.

BLAIR: Disney's says this is an experiment to see if they can draw families to the box office by turning an older movie like "The Little Mermaid" into a big, game-like experience. So during the movie people use their iPads to score points by answering trivia questions, by steering a ship through a storm, and tapping out bubbles and fireworks as fast as they can. As the audience enters the theater, they're divided into teams named for the different characters.

T.J. JONES: I was the number one member of the Flounder team.

BLAIR: TJ Jones and Meghan Watson recently went to "The Little Mermaid Second Screen Live" in Los Angeles. They said they were there to scout it out for their daughter. So of course they also had to play along to see what it would be like for her.

MEGHAN WATSON: Well, I beat him so I'm happy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: Appeal to people's competitive side. That's one way Disney is trying to make an old movie seem new again. Erin Ryan was a third grader when "The Little Mermaid" came out. She's now the news editor for jezebel.com, a pop culture website for women. She remembers her and her friends pretending to be Ariel on the playground.

ERIN RYAN: As a little baby feminist I was really excited by the fact that Ariel saved the prince.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LITTLE MERMAID")

JODI BENSON: (as Ariel) He would have died.

KENNETH MARS: (as King Triton) One less human to worry about.

BLAIR: But Ryan says she has no intention of going to see one of her favorite movies with an audience full of people playing on their iPads.

RYAN: It's a great movie. There's good music. There's a great plot. The colors are pretty so I don't see why having a second screen could possibly make it any better. If anything, it would detract from the viewers' experience and from the experience of other people trying to watch the movie.

BLAIR: Disney says they won't be doing this for all of their films. But they do want to keep up with - or stay ahead of - how technology is changing the way people consume entertainment. But what if you can't afford an iPad? Dave Hollis of Disney says they're hoping to develop apps for other tablets. For now, he says, find someone who has one.

DAVE HOLLIS: I have been in these audiences and have watched the people who had a single iPad for three and four people and it, in fact, actually made them as a group that much closer as they were, you know, trying to answer the questions faster.

BLAIR: In other words, "The Little Mermaid Second Screen Live" is really for people on one side of the divide. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDER THE SEA")

SAMUEL E. WRIGHT: (as Sebastian) Ariel, listen to me. The human world, it's a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there. The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake. You dream about...

GREENE: Always greener at NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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