December 19, 2011 – 7:00 am
Fresh from an additional capital infusion of $2 million, social TV app provider Miso is looking beyond just “checking-in” to a show with a feature called SideShows, which allows viewers to fashion themselves as “super-fans” who push out instant notifications with info about actors, quote highlights, products and just about anything going on as it happens during a given a live or DVR-ed airing of a broadcast.
The San Francisco startup expects Sideshows to be available as part of an iTunes Store app update by the end of this week. If it gets traction, it could go a long way towards helping Miso differentiate itself from its growing list of competitors.
The social TV space has gotten very crowded this past year, with a number of developers offering some variation of gamification (watch this show, get a badge!), content discovery (what shows are hot on Twitter/Facebook) and engagement (chat with other fans during the show). For the most part, those apps, such as GetGlue, IntoNow, YapTV and Umami to name a few, require the user to at least open the app while the program they want to connect with is on.
Passive And Active
While they have all tried to do most of the work for those lean-back viewers to make using the apps more like an after-thought, Miso’s SideShow encourages users to be as intensely active or as utterly passive with the app as they desire.
On one end, there’s the superfan. Miso lets anyone – it could be a viewer, a TV blogger or the network itself -- who cares to post about the dress Gossip Girl’s Serena may be wearing and where they can buy or rent the outfit. Or they can post a photo of a character saying a funny quote.
SideShows will be ranked in terms of how many subscribers they have, so an anonymous fan who can find the kinds of minutiae that fellow viewers want could conceivably have more power than officially sanctioned network marketing people in terms of directing the flow of content about a given program.
At the other end is the passive viewer, who needs to do nothing more than subscribe to one of the 200 initial SideShow operators who have been beta testing the feature. (Anyone can create a SideShow after the app update is widely released this week). Users can turn on push notifications on their iPhone or iPad and receive updates that super-fans mark at a specific point in the show.
By offering these twin poles for the passionate and the merely curious, Miso appears to have something for everyone. At least, that’s the main idea at work here.
During the presentation for about two dozen network executives, Miso CEO, Somrat Niyogi talked about the “democratizing effect” the SideShow feature would have in terms of marketing a TV program via social media and digital devices, aka “the second screen.”
“Within the next two years, the second screen will be the way most people experience their favorite programs,” Niyogi told the attendees seated on the 44th floor at Hearst Tower (Hearst is an investor in Miso). “A one-size experience doesn’t fit when it comes to connecting TV viewers within social media. With SideShows, users get to do as much or as little as they want in terms of interacting with the programs they watch.”
The Network/Viewer Relationship Problem
The idea is designed to attack a problem that plagues most of the entrants in the social TV space: I would argue that gamification is largely viewed as a novelty and one that is likely to wane, if that hasn’t already happened for most users already. For early users of TV social apps, one could imagine the accumulation of badges as beside the point. If there is a reason behind checking-in to a show, it’s because a viewer simply wants to express their affinity for a particular program.
The problem for networks, advertisers and app developers is what to do with that that relationship once a viewer declares their interest.
For a number of the network executives attending Miso’s presentation, there was a clear sense that Miso’s SideShows feature had a lot of positive things going for it. But it also brought up a lot of the concerns networks feel about the “messiness” of social media as well as the potential loss of control of the marketing message.
“My concern is that if they’re not curating it, how are they guaranteeing a quality experience? How do you avoid making it too cluttered and confusing?” said Caroline Ziegler, manager of Business Development & Analysis Digital Products And Services for NBC Universal. “According to Miso, whoever is getting the most use are getting the top rankings, so the hope is that it’s self-curating and the best rises to the top.
“Still, it would be nice if there were some sort of dashboard that the networks had access to, in order to flag SideShows that could be problematic – since I wonder if Miso has the manpower to do it themselves,” Ziegler added.
Katie Smillie, Miso’s product and marketing manager, told TVExchanger later that the company does have strict terms of service and can shutdown any user that goes beyond the line of accepted behavior.
Apart from that, it’s the relative lack of scale for social TV apps that has networks taking a wait and see attitude. For example, Miso, which first appeared in March 2010, claims to have 250,000 users, primarily across iPhone/iPad though it is also available on Android-powered devices. So there’s not a lot of power there to move the ratings needle – yet, at least. (GetGlue, which launched in Oct. 2009, has over 1.5 million users, while IntoNow, which was spun out of Auditude earlier this year before being acquired by Yahoo last spring, is also said to be closing in on one million downloads).
Leaning-Back With The Second Screen
DirecTV has been betting that social TV apps will move the needle and help it tighten its own connection with advertisers and its subscribers through greater use of social media in general. In September, the satellite provider added a GetGlue check-in function to its remote control. A few weeks before that arrangement, DirecTV collaborated with Miso on a social media effort around the start of season four of the satellite company-produced legal drama Damages, which involved the automatic recognition of what the Miso-user is watching, as opposed to the viewer having to manually “check-in.”
“I’m certainly used to watching TV at home and constantly picking up my phone. The idea of making the experience of social TV content being brought to me, as opposed to me actively going to get it, is really going to be beneficial to viewers. From the side of DirecTV or anyone that’s producing content, the ability to take it to the next level in terms of integration, is an important step.
With the show Damages, which is a DirecTV original production, we created all kind of second screen experiences for season four on Facebook, where you could check out what the characters are wearing and watch behind-the-scenes material.
We were happy with that effort. But the idea of pushing that info to the viewer as they’re watching the show in real-time is the next level.
“I’m certainly used to watching TV at home and constantly picking up my phone,” Jason Berman, DirecTV’s director of online marketing, told TVExchanger. “The idea of making the experience of social TV content being brought to me, as opposed to me actively going to get it, is really going to be beneficial to viewers. From the side of DirecTV or anyone that’s producing content, the ability to take it to the next level in terms of integration, is an important step.”
With Damages, DirecTV used to Miso connection to help promote additional “second screen experiences” on Facebook, where you could check out what the characters are wearing and watch behind-the-scenes material.
Game-Changing Only Goes So Far
At the moment, it’s easy to see that these kinds of attempts to mine social media for the TV are just “possibilities.” But the activity of watching TV and tweeting and/or posting to Facebook are long past the point of being fads. It’s certainly conceivable that more and more of this activity will be driven by tools that do much of the work for the users, as Miso is trying to do. Miso’s SideShows do represent the sort of big step forward that IntoNow brought to the space with its ability to recognize ambient audio to check users into what they’re watching at any given moment.
These tools are by no means magic and certainly will not be the province of any one social TV app. Others will quickly follow SideShows with similar offerings. So is this a game-changer for Miso or the social TV space? Since tools are constantly being developed and one-upped, the main differentiator will be which one has access to the better content and conversations. While Miso certainly has made SideShows an attractive and engaging addition to the social TV arena, its chances of success depends on how well its users create worthwhile experiences for TV program fans.
Putting that kind of trust is tough for networks, however. And in order to grow, Miso will have to quickly nail down agreements with the larger cable TV providers or find itself eclipsed by its rivals.
And then there’s always the thought that Facebook or Twitter, the platforms that all social TV apps depend on to bring in growing communities of consumers, may eventually decide to cut out the middlemen and develop their own integrations for serving second-screen conversations.
By David Kaplan
December 19, 2011 – 7:00 am