August 7, 2012
Social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have given television viewers a virtual water cooler to chitchat about their favorite shows. Now some companies are trying to extend that digital outlet a step further by reinventing the way people find TV programs. App developers are updating the traditional channel guide to show viewers programs that are uniquely relevant to them based on their social circles. Instead of channel-surfing or scrolling through a long list of shows, viewers can use these mobile apps to display shows that they or their friends like based on their preferences. Some of the apps integrate with Facebook Inc.'s social network to identify and recommend TV shows and sports teams liked on the social network. "We can help people discover what to watch in a fundamentally new way," Alex Iskold, chief executive of Adaptive Blue Inc., a New York-based maker of social TV app GetGlue. "When you sit down on the couch, you're wondering, 'What do I watch?' These kinds of guides are going to become pretty ubiquitous."
The apps extend the "social TV" movement that began a few years ago when developers started building apps that let people "check in," or tell their friends what shows they were watching in real-time. The idea was to replicate the success of start-ups like Foursquare Labs Inc., whose mobile app lets people virtually check in to a location and broadcast that information to their friends. These app developers found, however, that the "check-in" never created enough critical mass to create a viable social TV community on its own. Mr. Iskold said the check-in was just the foundation for creating a broader shift in how people watch and find new content. The company's original app, which has been downloaded about 3 million times, allowed people to check in to shows and join a real-time chat with others that did the same. In coming weeks, GetGlue plans to relaunch its app as a social TV guide that will show a scrolling calendar with the shows, movies and sports that users' might like. It will show whether friends who use the app are watching the same show.
GetGlue's guide will use Facebook's Connect feature, which lets people sign in with their Facebook identities to websites. GetGlue can then send that information back to Facebook and pull in data from friends, so that the guide becomes fully educated on what people like and watch. While GetGlue and similar apps are free, these companies are trying to offer complimentary advertising on smartphones and tablets to make money. For example, if someone is watching a pizza commercial, the app could offer a coupon for the pizza shop on the user's smart device. Another start-up, Peel Technologies Inc., last month announced a new feature for its app that will suggest content and show users what they have access to in real-time. For example, if someone tuned into the most recent episode of AMC's "Mad Men," the app may recommend they go back and watch the first season and show which services, such as Netflix Inc., that offer it.
The vision does present challenges, said Scott Ellis, Peel's vice president of marketing. The TV industry is fragmented and controlled by many players, including content providers, cable companies and content streaming sites. Because of the various partnerships that need to be made, Mr. Ellis said it could take a while for the full vision to become a reality. Mr. Ellis said Mountain View, Calif.-based Peel is launching an integration with Netflix soon and is in discussions with other Web content providers. Other start-ups have early deals with larger players-for instance, GetGlue's app will soon act as a remote for DirecTV's set-top boxes-but it is still very early days. Content providers are wary of giving information over to third parties, rather than trying to build the technology themselves.
Given those challenges, and the strides being made in the TV industry by giants like Apple Inc., Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said many social TV start-ups will likely get gobbled up and their ideas brought into bigger projects. "It is much more likely that these vendors are building products that will be features tomorrow," he said. Still, social TV app makers remain positive. Jeremy Toeman, chief executive of San Francisco start-up Dijit Media, is launching a new social TV Guide this summer. "The harder road is the one worth taking," he said.
Later in August, TVGuide.com plans to relaunch its own channel-guide app that has been downloaded 7 million times. The app will include new personalization features, although Christy Tanner, executive vice president general manager of TV Guide Mobile and TVGuide.com, wouldn't elaborate on specifics. The app compliments a feature TVGuide.com launched on its site two years ago called "I'll Watch," which lets users click on that button when they are watching a show and chat with their friends on Facebook or Twitter. (TVGuide.com licenses the name to the print magazine, TV Guide, which is owned by a separate company.) "If you think about the TV listing grid as a 2D experience, what we're moving to is a 3-D experience," Ms. Tanner said. Wall Street Journal
Time Warner Inc.'s Turner cable networks division said it acquired sports-news website Bleacher Report. The price paid was about $175 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Bleacher Report publishes sports editorial content from both paid and unpaid contributors. The site had 10.1 million unique visitors in June, up from 7.9 million a year earlier, according to comScore. That places the site in the top 10 sports sites, which are led by Yahoo Sports with 42 million unique visitors in June. The deal will allow Turner to incorporate sports footage and other content it already owns into Bleacher Report's Web site, according to David Levy, Turner's president of sales, distribution and sports. "There will be tons of opportunity for brand crossover," he said Monday. Turner owns cable channels TNT, TBS and CNN but also manages several sports websites including NBA.com and PGA.com.
Mr. Levy said the site will help Turner offer advertisers more ways to reach a desired demographic. He says Turner sometimes bundles TV spots with Web sites but also sells packages that are Web only. Until recently, Turner also managed SI.com, the website linked to sister company Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated magazine. Mr. Levy said there is still potential to coordinate with SI.com but that site is more focused on features and storytelling. "We were actually clashing a little bit," he said. Bleacher Report, meanwhile, concentrates on team-specific content that complements live-sports coverage, he said. Bleacher Report was founded in 2006 by four partners and has been funded by multiple rounds of venture capital. Turner also continues to explore an acquisition of online social-news aggregator Mashable. A person familiar with the matter said the talks, which began several months ago, continue to progress. Mashable already contributes content to CNN.dom and its founder, Pete Cashmore, writes a column for the Turner-owned site. Wall Street Journal
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments Sept. 13 on the state mapmakers' second attempt at a new set of legislative boundaries.
The hearings will be aired live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network for the second time in the history of the court. January's hearing over an earlier redistricting proposal was the first time the court allowed PCN to broadcast its proceedings live. In a January press release, the court said the decision would have a significant effect on the Commonwealth and therefore should be accessible to the general public. Legislative districts for the state House and Senate must be drawn once every decade to account for population shifts in the state. The boundaries are approved by a five-member, bipartisan commission.
The court overturned the first legislative redistricting proposal, citing excessive political divisions in House and Senate districts. It was the first time in the commission's history the court rebuked its maps. A dozen challenges have been filed against the latest maps, including two filed by plaintiffs whose cases helped overturn the first plan. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Philadelphia City Hall courtroom. Observers are admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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