February 17, 2012 – 5:08 pm
There's no question that social media activity around television viewing and discovery have hit a fever pitch the past few weeks, with hundreds of thousands of Grammys and Super Bowl watchers tweeting, commenting on Facebook and "checking-in" via mobile apps like GetGlue, Yahoo's IntoNow and about a dozen others.
No other social TV app has had the kind of instant reception of advertisers and user interest that "second screen" mobile app Viggle has had. Though similar to IntoNow and Miso in terms of the "listening feature" that can identify a TV program through some sort of audio watermark, Viggle's big proposition is that viewers can get "loyalty rewards" from an array of blue chip marketing partners like The Gap, Pepsi, Burger King, Foot Locker, Starbuck's, Fandango, Lowe's, Target and others.
Though it launched less than two months ago and is only available in the Apple iPhone format, Viggle has also attracted advertisers like movie studio Universal Pictures.
On top of that, the company just announced its first acquisition: Loyalize, a software company that powers quizzes, games and other "audience participation" features on websites and apps.
So what's Viggle got that others don't? To begin with, the head start in striking ad and marketing deals before the launch was entirely due to the connections of Robert F. X. Sillerman. Best known as the backer of Fox Broadcasting's American Idol, Sillerman set up Function(x), Viggle's parent, last fall -- hence the instant ad support.
But going forward, Viggle will have to rely on more than Sillerman's ability to get marketers' calls returned. In a conversation with TVExchanger, Viggle CEO Janet Scardino says that over the next quarter, the differences between the company's app and others trying to leverage the "second screen experience" will become much more defined -- particularly when it comes to connecting women to advertisers through social TV.
Women want rewards: Since women tend to make most of the household purchase decisions, marketers tend to be more willing to experiment on anything that has the potential of reaching them. For the most part, most major marketers remain uncertain about social TV apps, feeling that there is simply not enough scale.
For example, two of the leaders, GetGlue and IntoNow, have both hit 2 million. But GetGlue CEO Alex Iskold has said that the app will need about 20 million users until it can achieve enough scale to attract serious spending. While GetGlue and its rivals are showing signs of growth that is expected to continue over the next 12 months, the audience is still up for grabs, as social TV apps are still far from becoming mainstream. At some point, there will be a shakeout and consolidation in the space is widely expected.
At the moment, the perception is that these apps tend to skew slightly towards younger, tech-savvy men. Scardino feels that Viggle, whose 150,000 downloads have been fairly evenly divided between men and women right now, will ultimately have a slightly greater appeal to women.
"Because we're only on Apple's iOS right now, the target audience is more aspirational, more coastal, and more affluent.," Scardino said. "But the concept resonates very broadly, especially in the 18- to 34 age range. And our audience is slightly female, though tech tends to deliver male. The reason is that loyalty rewards programs like ours largely appeals to women. And that appeals to big advertisers."
The app's reach should see a more mainstream audience once it launches on Google Android's system, which Scardino said is scheduled for the end of Q1. At the same time, Scardino will unveil an iPad app as well. In terms of building out the use of its rewards programs, Viggle will be creating more content for the tablet, such as more quizzes and show details.
For one thing, Scardino would prefer that Viggle not be viewed as a "social TV app."
"We’re not a social TV app – we’re a much bigger idea than that," Scardino said. "Social is an element, but it's not the exclusive focus. Still, if you want to look at the space in a Venn diagram, there are number of social TV and second screen apps, and we see the second screen side as complementary. As such, we take a horizontal approach. ESPN will always do a better job on their dedication secondscreen vertical. Viggle rewards consumers for time spent across many channels. But there’s no barrier to entry in the social TV space, the question for all is what is truly sticky over time -- how do you keep consumers coming back again and again."
Fostering "Loyalty": For most of the social TV apps, the reason to come back is generally centered around overwhelming devotion to a handful of shows and the need to share details with other like-minded viewers. Viggle's approach is more practical. There are no stickers or badges that proclaim one a fan -- there are coupons for movies, coffee even discounts on iPod Shuffles, no matter the show. The rewards are all tied to checking in to programs and checking out advertisers' messages.
And because that's where Viggle is placing its bets, the company decided it would be better to purchase Loyalize, rather than build it in house, saving it several months of development work. The company put Loyalize to work during last week's Grammys, prompting users with quizzes during the broadcast.
More acquisitions are in the works at Function(x), Scardino said. The deals may not all come with synergies like Loyalize, but the M&A strategy is specifically based on consumer-facing properties in the mobile and digital space.
Since its debut on January 25th, Since it's late January launch, Viggle has been downloaded over 150,000 times to date and claims that its users average 73 minutes per session, with 5 check-ins on average day per user. The company also boasts that it gets "36 ad engagements" per-day/per-user, which have helped it process 35,000 rewards redeemed.
Not bad for a month. But it takes longer than a few weeks to test the strength of loyalty and the value of rewards.
In the meantime, Scardino is also working on a new Function(x) entity that's in "stealth mode" until the end of Q2.
By David Kaplan
February 17, 2012 – 5:08 pm