Former ‘Idol’ exec invests millions in new social TV app Viggle

By Cory Bergman Comment

The man who launched American Idol is getting into the social TV business. Robert Sillerman announced today that his new company, Function(x) will soon debut a TV loyalty app called Viggle. By checking into various TV shows — the app will come with audio recognition software — viewers can earn points that can redeemed for rewards from companies such as Burger King, Sephora, Fandango and the Hulu Plus service.

The company says the app (which is launching soon) will highlight shows with “check-in bonuses.” You can set reminders and “like” shows, and Viggle will curate Twitter conversations for each TV show (100 channels will be included at launch, with more on the way). Partners can serve up companion content such as real-time polls and quizzes. Users can connect with Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to share their conversations outside the Viggle universe.

Function(x) says its working with several networks and production companies to create second-screen experiences on Viggle. “We look forward to providing a platform and service for our network partners to build their own second screen experiences,” said Janet Scardino, chief executive officer of Function(x). “Our vision is for Viggle to become a broad currency for loyalty across all TV and we’re excited about helping networks drive audience tune-in and engagement.”

While there are lots of similar competitors in this space, Viggle promises better rewards beyond badges and stickers. “TV check-in applications have not yet proven that they can move audiences who just want to sit and watch,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, quoted in the Viggle press release. “Rewards have worked in the past to motivate people to change their behavior, and Viggle’s focus on real rewards may be the critical difference that drives TV audiences to participate.”

What those rewards will be exactly, has yet to be released.

Sillerman comes with a long history of entrepreneurship in radio and live entertainment. He helped create Clear Channel and Live Nation, and he was the head of CKX, the owner of 19 Entertainment, which created and produced the “American Idol” franchise worldwide. His new company, Function(x), shows 58 employees on its website, with job openings for 15 more. In other words, it appears to be a serious social TV effort.

As we predicted a few weeks ago, social TV is just beginning to heat up.