TV station owners partner with ConnecTV for social media play
Recognizing that the big-screen TV is facing increased competition from tablets and other small screens, 10 television station companies have partnered with a Bay Area start-up to create a social media network for viewers of local and network programming.
ConnecTV's application, which has been in the works for two years, is designed to enable viewers to interact with other fans of the TV shows as everyone watches in real time. The technology automatically detects and "checks in" ConnecTV subscribers when they tune into a program and then sends related content to their "second screen," such as a laptop or Apple Inc.'s iPad.
For example, sports fans could receive statistics of football players on their laptop or second screen as they watch the game on their big screen. Viewers of ABC's "Modern Family" could see a feed on their second screen that contains the latest news about Ty Burrell or another actor in the show.
The rollout of ConnecTV's free application -- which is currently in a restricted beta test mode -- is expected to begin in January. Later in the year, the company is expected to introduce an application for smart phones.
The introduction is significant because it illustrates the marriage of new technologies with one of the oldest mediums, TV. In recent years, a handful of technology and cable television companies have jumped into the fray, building services to help viewers navigate the offerings of hundreds of TV channels and, at the same time, link to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
"Ever since broadcasting began more than 60 years ago, people have talked about their favorite programs," said Roger Keating, senior vice president of digital media for Hearst Television Inc. "Now, that conversation is moving over to social media platforms and as local broadcasters, we want to be part of that."
In addition to Hearst, broadcast TV groups participating in the venture include such industry heavyweights as Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Broadcasting, Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.
The companies collectively own more than 200 stations that reach nearly two-thirds of the homes with TVs in the U.S. The consortium also includes TV station affiliates of the major broadcast networks. Some of the participating TV station companies have taken a financial stake in ConnecTV, a private venture. The company would not disclose its backers.
The ConnecTV technology is expected to detect and sync with more than 250 television channels, said Ian Aaron, co-founder of the company.
"Social media is going more and more local," Aaron said. "The application we are creating will be the connective tissue" between TV channels and Twitter or Facebook.
The technology aims to give local broadcasters -- who have been hard hit during the recession as advertisers cut spending -- an opportunity to create a new revenue stream. Stations will be able to sell advertising that appears on the second screen.
TV station groups were interested in the service in the hope that it will keep viewers engaged in their programming even with the distraction of a competing electronic device. They plan to insert teases to upcoming local newscasts and other programming on the second screen.
ConnecTV was developed by some of the architects of another technology that revolutionized the TV industry more than a decade ago: TiVo. Stacy Jolna and Alan Moskowitz were both part of TiVo's founding team. Aaron was former president of Gemstar-TV Guide, a pioneer of electronic TV program guides.
-- Meg James
Image of the ConnecTV application for the second screen. Credit: ConnecTV