Here Come the Social TV Apps

1Executive Summary

We’ve long advocated that social video is key to growing audiences on TV and online. Multiple high-profile events — including Obama’s Presidential Inauguration — have shown that integrating social networking with the viewing experience can significantly boost audience engagement. By fostering conversation around certain events or programs through different social networks, TV and online video, programmers have found they can draw more viewers who stay longer and participate in the conversation more than when there are no social tie-ins.

So far, much of the sharing around TV has taken place on social network giants like Facebook and Twitter. But a new generation of applications is emerging on the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace; on that will capture and drive conversations around TV and online programming.

This new group of social TV apps primarily leverages the same type of game mechanics as location-based services like Foursquare; they entice users to “check in” and share what they’re viewing by offering up “badges” and other rewards. The apps enable users to connect with one another and are frequently hooked into Facebook and Twitter; checkins are shared with friends and followers, which programmers believe could draw more interest in their shows. For content providers, the apps offer a way to promote shows, increase viewership and measure effectiveness of campaigns by collecting a sample of the number of users that have checked in to view a piece of content at any given time.

It’s still early days, so there is still plenty of innovation to be had and marketing deals to be struck. More importantly, there’s far from a definitive leader in the space. Here’s a run-down of the social video apps currently fighting for programmers’ and viewers’ attention:

Clicker

Clicker’s primary business is in video search, but it recently announced it would compete in the social video space with mobile apps that allow users to search for videos and share what they’re watching with friends.

While other apps are trying to strike marketing deals to promote certain programs through incentives, Clicker is mainly trying to lure content providers on board by making their shows easy for viewers to share with one another. Clicker Social enables video publishers to add sharing buttons to their videos and web sites; as a result it has integrated with players from Brightcove, Ooyala and thePlatform. Clicker may not have the bells and whistles other app-makers have, at least from a user perspective, but it promises an easy on-road to publishers looking to make their videos more social.

GetGlue

While many of the apps on this list are focused on video only — and some on TV exclusively — GetGlue enables its users to share whatever type of media they are enjoying. This includes TV, movies, online videos, book titles, video games or music. In one way, offering so much content has the potential to increase usage among users, as most consume more than one type of media.

Another advantage GetGlue has is its availability on multiple platforms. Now with an iPad app, GetGlue has extended its reach even further with an interface that takes advantage of the additional screen real estate with bigger graphics and more social features, like being able to comment or vote on pieces of content directly from the stream of other comments. In addition to its Apple-centric offerings, GetGlue has recently rolled out an app for Android devices and a mobile site for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and webOS users.

Miso

The flagship app of Google Ventures-backed Bazaar Labs, Miso is available on the iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices. While it offers the same Foursquare-like badges and rewards as many of other social TV apps, Miso also offers up some exclusive multimedia content that can be unlocked with frequent check-ins to content partner sites.

Among other content partners, Miso has struck deals with Oxygen’s “The Bad Girls Club,” History’s “Ice Road Truckers” and WEtv’s “Bridezillas.” With exclusive videos and pictures from content partners that become available with frequent check-ins, Miso is trying to set itself apart from the deluge of other apps that may have secured badge partnerships with content providers but don’t have any additional incentives for users to check in.

Philo

Founded on the same Foursquare-like model of providing badges and other rewards for user check-ins, social TV startup Philo introduced an iPhone app earlier this year. But Philo’s badges come with a twist — many that aren’t explicitly created for cross-promotion with TV programmers are made up by Philo employees. So you may get an “Art Vandelay” badge for watching lots of “Seinfeld.”

In addition to offering up virtual rewards, the Philo app shows users what their friends are watching and which shows are trending. And like many of the other apps, Philo broadcasts user check-ins to social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Earlier this summer, Philo also announced it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from North Bridge Venture Partners, DFJ Gotham Ventures, ENIAC Ventures and television producer Stephen Lambert. Along with the funding, Philo has also announced promotional deals with Studio Lambert for “Undercover Boss” and Donald Trump Productions for “The Apprentice.”

TV.com Relay

CBS Interactive became the first major broadcaster to enter the social TV game, with an HTML5 web app optimized for mobile browsers called TV.com Relay. The mobile web capabilities of TV.com Relay means it can be accessed on most mobile devices without CBS having to build individual apps for the Apple App Store, Android Marketplace and other app stores.

And while other apps allow users to check into TV shows, movies and online video, CBS’s app is focused solely on TV — though not just CBS shows. CBS has leveraged metadata from 50 years of TV programming received through the networks acquisition of CNET and TV.com; users can find detailed information about any cast or crew from their favorite shows on any network. Tying this information into the app gives CBS a bit more info than is found in any of the other competitors.

Most of the social TV apps that have been released so far are from startups with limited budgets. CBS, on the other hand, has big plans for marketing TV.com Relay, including running promotional material during primetime shows on TV networks. Such visibility, not to mention CBS’ financial capabilities, could prove a huge advantage against some of the other apps on the list. That said, lack of support for YouTube, Vimeo or other online video content not directly associated with TV viewing could be a knock against it.

Tunerfish

Tunerfish emerged as a skunkworks project within Comcast led by employees from social network Plaxo, which was acquired by the cable company in 2008. Tunerfish started out on the web but now also has an iPhone and Android app available. Unlike some of the other social video apps, Tunerfish isn’t limiting itself just to TV or movies, but allowing users to check into any piece of video they view on TV or online — even stupid pet or human trick videos on YouTube. Recognizing that only part of what people are watching is on TV, Tunerfish lets users share any and all of the video they’re consuming.

Like Philo, Miso and others, Tunerfish users earn badges for checking into supported content. It has deals with HBO for “True Blood,” Showtime for “Weeds,” E! for “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and NBC for “Sunday Night Football.” It provides virtual rewards for users that check in to those shows and influence others to do the same.

While Tunerfish isn’t doing anything tremendously different from other social apps, being part of Comcast allows it to leverage some of the parent company’s market heft, content relationships and financial backing. That’s helped it gain some of its existing partnerships and will surely help with more in the future.

Yap.tv

Yap.tv is the newest of the social TV app makers and has yet to release its first offering to the public. The new startup launched an iPad app in September designed to entice users to chat with each other as opposed to simply checking in to a piece of content. As a result, Yap.tv is focused less on check-ins and badges and more on keeping users conversing; it does this by displaying Twitter feeds related to the shows that users are watching in the app, and allowing users to respond directly without having to leave the app.

Yap.tv has some funding from Javelin Venture Partners and Blumberg Capital, along with angel investments from former Apple exec David Austin and Band of Angels managing director Ian Sobieski. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is also advising the firm.

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  1. I’ve already assumed that clicker.com is the preferred destination without having used it much yet.

  2. Excellent review, thanks.

    Could you add your comment and vision on the approach of TV Guide (tvguide.com) and the way they connect to Facebook / social platforms.

    It appears to me that too many people invested their (emotional) time in their profiles on FB and Twitter and look forward to integrated services from these parties. TV Guide might be anticipating on this?

    Please comment. Thanks.

    1. I’m not sure that anyone actually goes to TVGuide.com, and haven’t heard anything about what it’s plans are to use social tools.

    2. We’ve been talking about your question around the GigaOM offices, and so far we can’t say we’ve heard much about TVGuide.com’s activities. But we are curious. Video content search and discovery — and sharing content you do find — is a critical issue looking forward.

      We’re looking at some new report topics in this area, and it seems to me it would be prudent for TV Guide to be looking at how to seize this opportunity to drive their future business.

      Chris Albrecht wrote a good piece about the search/discover last summer, actually, and while the specific landscape has changed (particularly social aspects), it still has a good framework you might be interested in:
      http://pro.gigaom.com/2009/07/as-millions-of-videos-come-to-tv-how-will-we-choose/all/

    3. To-date, TV Guide’s efforts on Facebook are pretty underwhelming. Its page has about 30,000 fans and a pretty inactive wall. Polls and contests are sparce and infrequent; video chat irregular. The Facebook page drives you to the tvguide.com site to get a program guide – which I can sort of understand – but that might make a pretty obvious app instead.

      There’s very little viral on the tvguide.com site, either, other than the obligatory Like button, but the company is pretty active on Twitter. In fairness, I haven’t talked to the company in some time, so they may be working on more exciting things.

    4. They’ve done some interesting, but fairly straightforward integration using the Facebook social plug-in and other social nets like Twitter, making them available using a bottom social connect bar. The Facebook plugin looks tuned to TV content, so at least they’re minding the store in that regard and not just showing random feeds. They are also one of the few sites I’ve seen that has sign-in capabilities with Meebo, which deserves kudos at some level, but how Meebo is used to interact with TVguide.com and other visitors is unclear to me.

      What would be interesting is to somehow take that Facebook plugin integration and personalize it. They have Facebook connect logon capabilities, so to tune the plugin feed towards a person’s own social graph would make it somewhat valuable IMO.

  3. Thanks for the summary Ryan.
    But I think this only captures one aspect of why Social TV is such a hot topic. The companies listed here are primarily about content discovery via sharing and check-in functionality. This is a big component of why social TV is key for content owners and distributors…but equally important is how social TV can fundamentally make the entertainment product more enjoyable for viewers (and more valuable for them). This layer of social and interactive content enhancements is driving a flurry of new startups that are proving the model works.

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