The Race For The Second Screen: 5 Apps That Are Shaping Social TV

Co-viewing. Back channeling. Checking in. Double- or triple-screening. Layered content. The increasing symbiosis between good old traditional TV and the social world will be one of the most interesting media trends to watch this year. In this three-part series, Co.Create looks at the world of social TV from a few different angles. First up: the apps.

It’s easy to understand why 2012 is shaping up to be the year of social TV. Consumers are turning to the so-called second screen like never before. A 2011 whitepaper prepared by Yahoo/Nielsen reported that as many as 86 percent of viewers use mobile devices while watching TV. While many think that number might be high, it signals a trend in consumer behavior that cannot be ignored. Broadcasters and marketers are feeling the heat of both risk and reward. Risk if they do nothing and cede the second screen to Twitter and Angry Birds; reward if they find a way to deliver companion experiences, drive engagement—and expand ad inventory.

One result has been investment flowing into social TV apps, in what some—like MIT research scientist Marie-Jose Montpetit—are already comfortable calling a bubble. "2012 is the year that people will think, rightly maybe, that they will make a lot of money out of social television, for the first time ever," she says. "But I would say a lot of people think it is going to be easy. I think people are creating a bubble around it."

Yahoo snatched up audio-synchronization app IntoNow for $20-$30 million last April, just 12 weeks after it launched. Check-in apps GetGlue and Miso, meanwhile, have both closed funding rounds in recent months, while U.K.-based Zeebox recently won backing from BSkyB for its platform, which it plans to bring to the U.S. in the first part of the year. "I think what we’re seeing is a very, very early nascent market of lots of players, and I think we’re going to see, in the next year or so, some consolidation, we’re going to see the deaths of some companies, for that matter, and you’ll probably see some new entrants as well," says Somrat Niyogi, CEO and founder of Miso.

Here are five players already in the market. Each has a different piece of the puzzle. It remains to be seen which—if any—will emerge from 2012 stronger than they started.

The Audio QR Code: Shazam
There’s a simple reason a third of this year’s Super Bowl ads will be "Shazamable," as David Jones, executive vice president of marketing, says. Scale. Founded in 2002 around its (still) core functionality of identifying songs, seemingly out of thin air, Shazam has 175 million users worldwide and 60 million in the U.S., which makes it the only scale player in the space. (The runner-up on this list, in terms of users, is IntoNow, with 2.5 million.) That said, the company only began ramping up the application of its audio content recognition technology to TV last year, after a successful experimental pilot for Dockers during the 2010 Super Bowl. Since then, Shazam has delivered some 50 custom second-screen experiences for brands like Old Navy and shows like Covert Affairs. In the latter case, Jones reports that the promotion generated more "Shazams" than tweets and Facebook likes combined. The downside, from a user standpoint, is that you can’t Shazam just anything—the relationship has to be pre-arranged and there is no serendipity—but if you need to send users to a second-screen experience by, say, Sunday, Shazam is the only player with that sort of scale today.

The Check-In King: GetGlue
GetGlue launched in 2008 as a platform on which you could "check-in"—a la Foursquare—to television shows, books, and movies, but TV quickly became its primary application. "TV is the biggest focus for us right now," says CEO and founder Alex Iskold. "It seems to be the most popular with consumers, due to the nature of TV. It is repetitive, you can check in every week, and it is the primary form of entertainment for many." With an additional $12 million in funding and 2 million users under its belt, GetGlue has become a serious partner for networks like HBO, which ran a True Blood promotion that rewarded super-fans for their check-ins. Some scoff at the check-in and sticker model as too 2009, but there’s no question GetGlue has some momentum.

The User-Generated Platform: Miso
Another check-in play, launched in 2010—think Gowalla to GetGlue’s Foursquare—what makes Miso interesting today is its approach to content. Two big problems of second-screen experiences are a) content and b) noise. Miso is trying to solve both by creating a "WordPress for TV" that allows users—be they fans or content owners—to create second-screen experiences to accompany TV shows. "My vision is there will be a new market of second-screen producers, people that are creating content specifically for the second screen," says Niyogi. "Imagine a history expert that knows more about the 1960s than anybody at [Mad Men], that can say this is accurate, this is not accurate, that product never existed. There are people who will follow history experts across TV, who’ll say I have to watch this show, with this person." Imagine, in other words, if the best Twitter fan in any TV hashtag had better tools. You can test out Miso’s SideShows experience this Sunday, with Super Bowl content, sponsored by Hyundai. Right now, however—unless you have DirecTV or AT&T U-verse—you’ll have to forward manually through your experience, although Miso is currently looking to partner with vendors for synchronization via audio content recognition.

The Audio-Sync Engine: IntoNow
The third biggest problem of second-screen experiences is synchronization. How does your device know what you’re watching—and know right where you are in the show? Check-ins are an option. Direct synchronization with an Internet-enabled set-top box is viable, although carrier fragmentation presents a lot of obstacles. But (almost) all TV has sound. IntoNow is able to detect what you’re watching, live, on 130 channels and has indexed some 266 years of archival content. As founder Adam Cahan explains, sound is to IntoNow as GPS is to Foursquare and other geolocation apps—it’s a passive input that allows IntoNow to determine your context and deliver relevant content accordingly. "Sound as input, we think, is critical," he says. "Sound for us unlocks the fact that we can use it to understand your context and use it to identify what you’re doing." Right now, once you’re synched to a show, IntoNow serves up contextual stories from Yahoo (based on real-time mentions) and relevant Twitter handles, along with native discussion threads. Cahan argues that this sort of ambient content is the right mix for tablets, which tend to be more consumption-focused than community-focused. "We think there’s going to be a lot more of this type of experience, where you—as a user—are giving us very few inputs, in our case it’s one tap and a SoundPrint, where we will continue to surface more and more relevant content or experiences or social aspects, without necessarily requiring you to deeply engage."

The Import: Zeebox
Launched in November by former BBC technology chief Anthony Rose, Zeebox has the field to itself in the U.K., and quickly garnered a substantial investment from BSkyB, the U.K.’s largest subscription television service. Zeebox acts as an electronic program guide, weighted by what your friends—or everyone—is watching, combined with a suite of social and web tools that allow you to engage with others about what you’re watching. According to Rose, users want three things. "They want more information about what they see on TV, they want to buy stuff they see on TV, and they want links to new episodes," all of which Zeebox intends to provide, although it won’t be providing it in the U.S. until later this year.

Next: The view from a social-driven TV property and a media giant.

[Image: Brisbane/Shutterstock]

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  • Lets Watch It

    "2012 is the year that people will think, rightly maybe, that they will make a lot of money out of social television, for the first time ever,”
    With 2012 coming to an end, we don't think social tv apps have moved the dial.  We would love to hear what you think is in store for 2013. The Get Glue acquisition is definitely interesting..


  • Matt Hardy

    Good post & a good roundup of the main horses in the race.  Will be interesting to see how Zeebox fares now it has launched in the US.

    I wrote a post on this same subject a while back which you might also find interesting.

  • Louis Chaussé

    Great post! Those apps are part of the most popular but I suggest you to take a look at this post I wrote a few time ago. It exposes the current Social TV landscape.

    Louis Chaussé 
    Marketing Manager @ Seevibes

  • Seth Cohen

    The companies mentioned here all share the same underlying premise that is fallacious. The assumption they make is that the TV screen is the primary screen and the mobile screen is the complementor. But if you ever sit in a room with Millenials and a TV, you will observe that it is the opposite. As soon as it buzzes, their phone takes precedent over anything else. It annoys me, but it happens in movie theatres too. For the digital generation, their personal mobile screens are their primary screen. Content producers (will) have no choice but have to target the small screen as the way to bring viewers to larger experiences, not vice versa. Hollywood is going to have to target consumers with frequent insider and 'behind the scenes' content specifically designed for mobile. For this, they need nothing more than existing social media. Millions of users for these apps, however admirable (and I wish them all well) does not compare to the 100's of millions of Twitter and Facebook and YouTube users today.

    Seth Cohen
    Co-founder, CEO Screenius

  • Earl Cole

    Great article... what about Particle 5 and what they are doing for TV and brands online?

  • Garth

    Hi Jim, 
    I hate to add to the bubble that Ms. Montpetit predicts, but my company, called OtherScreen, has an app that was released in Sept. that is gaining traction in the market.

    - OtherScreen is software that delivers real time content to TV viewers mobile devices. - Consider, for example, The Bachelor. Last night, we asked our audience (in real time with the live broadcast) questions like "How many different women will Ben kiss on tonight's show?" or "Which will happen next - a bleeped out word or an advertisement?" or "Will Emily cry on camera before the next rose is handed out?". Our audience receives this content on their mobile device or via a browser on their computer.Many viewers find questions of this sort amusing.  The interest they gain in the resolution of such questions gives them incentive to stay with the live broadcast for longer periods of time.- We then track and score viewer responses. This creates points, a leader board, competition and winners. - We couple this with real time chat during the event among self defined groups of friends.- By providing real time, gamified (buzzword!) content and social engagement (chat) alongside the show, we give viewers a strong incentive to watch the program and the ads live (not time shifted). - We also ask questions about the ads themselves, which is surprisingly interesting to the audience and generates data about engagement with ads in real time.

    OtherScreen licenses our platform to tv stations and sells research about audience engagement.

    I hope we can get on your radar.

    Garth Moulton
    President and Co-Founder

  • James Lima

    Great article thanks Jim. But you did not mention a technology. TvTak uniquetechnology Enables AugmentedReality overlays in synch with the 

  • Sarah

    Great article thanks Jim. Not sure if you've heard of Screach - it's a social interactivity app in this space. It's focus is more on content creation and enhancing the 1st screen experience through more relevant content which is specific to the individual viewer.

    It also places a big emphasis on return with profiling features and the ability to deliver in-app rewards and vouchers. It's developed by the guys at Screenreach Interactive with Screach 2.0 due for release very soon. 

  • Wi3_Inc

    Indeed, great post. It does beg the question of just how all these users are going to get reliable high speed Internet service to their TVs though... without it, the second screen will never stand a chance of becoming a mass market reality.

    Adam Lenio

  • Tive

    Adam, they don't need internet on their TV. The second screen is normally a mobile or tablet or laptop.

  • Tive

    Great post. Can I ask whether you deliberately left out Gracenote? With the ability to deliver a list of products and services seen as well as music featured in a show it seems to provide utility that can generate real ROI above and beyond current competitors. 

  • Tive

    Thanks for responding . Thanks for explaining why you didn't include it (and apologies - I wasn't implying you should include everything!). I found their proposal extremely compelling with a very clear ROI model.  Good to see your reasoning and a be introduced to some players I hadn't heard of before.

  • Jim Hanas

     Gracenote is on my radar, but it does not have a standalone end-user app at this time. Rather, Gracenote generally provides ACR services to third parties, as does competitors Audible Magic and Civolution,  both of which Miso is partnering with, Also, my list is not exhaustive, and could not be, although I think this is a good collection of serious players. But new contenders are appearing everyday. ConnecTV launched just yesterday.
     GetGlue does not use ACR at this time. It uses manual check-ins.

  • Kaleb

    Stephen you're assuming Jim knew about Gracenote - I didn't until now and I wrote a piece about the second screen a couple of weeks back - Jim has touched on a number of things that I cover, but I also look at advertising within premium content that Youtube will eventually offer.

    I assume Getglue uses ACR technology just as Gracenote does?

  • David Markowitz

    This year's Super Bowl will be a huge milestone for social TV.  There's likely to be huge surges in traffic across the apps you mention and the scores of others that provide all sorts of rich and engaging TV companion experiences.

    Another key piece of the growth of social TV, particularly as it relates to all the investment dollars flowing in, is how it gets monetized and how advertisers reach these audiences.

    Our firm has developed technology that allows brands to deliver digital ads on social TV apps that are sync'd in real-time to their TV spots.  Thus, advertisers can deliver complementary messages and offers, and more directly reach those viewing their spots and then engage them online.

    A number of Super Bowl advertisers will be running these 'Sync Ads' during the game on social TV apps and websites. As these apps become more commonplace and integrated into viewers' behavior, there will likely be a huge impact on how TV ad budgets are spent.

    David Markowitz
    SecondScreen Networks