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Second Screen Apps Explode

Social media tries to get viewers to quit surfing and engage with TV

Illustration: Francesco Bongiorni

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Thanks to a recent spate of TV-focused “second screen” apps, even the sedentary act of sitting around and staring at the tube can feel social and dynamic.

Apps like GetGlue, Miso, Philo, AdaptiveBlue, Loyalize, Watchpoints, Tunerfish, and TV Check-In prompt viewers to “check in” to whatever they’re watching and share the news with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Users can earn rewards (both virtual and real), chat with friends or strangers about the show, vote in polls, rate shows, “like” shows, get recommendations, even shop for related merchandise. It’s a welcome development to the TV networks, which have been slightly terrified that distracted viewers are checking email and not really watching TV; now the distraction can focus on the program itself. It’s all social, and more importantly, it’s got that buzzy, ad-friendly element that televisions can’t yet deliver—it’s got engagement.

Of course, wherever words like “social” and “engagement” converge, a fast-multiplying class of startups races to be the first, biggest, best, or next. The April sale of 90-day-old IntoNow to Yahoo for a shocking $30 million only fanned the flames, even though market observers called the steep price an anomaly. The problem? The fledgling social TV category faces an uphill battle with sponsors. The bevy of “me-too” apps makes for a fragmented, undifferentiated market, and that isn’t attractive to advertisers, says Mark Yackanich, CEO of social TV tech developer MegaPhone Labs. Many of the multiscreen apps are less than a year into development, and few have scale, but they’re starting to make inroads.

The oldest player, GetGlue, with 1.2 million users, last week announced phone maker HTC will sponsor a partnership with Entertainment Weekly to produce branded “stickers”—rewards based on EW’s top summer movies list.

Its competitors are in a technology and user adoption arms race to grab their own share of marketing dollars available from digital and TV budgets.