Another startup has launched around the amorphous social TV space, but this time it's steered by industry heavyweights and has initial clients, a predecessor and a slick interface--along with a business plan.
The company is called Starling
, and launches today at MIPTV
in Cannes. Starling's president is Kevin Slavin
, a leader in the New York technology scene, professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Programme
and managing director/co-founder of Area/Code
, a shop that pioneered big, transmedia games for brands.
Working mostly in the entertainment space, Area/Code's work includes projects like the Discovery Channel's Sharkrunners
in 2007, which loosed armchair marine biologists in a virtual Pacific to catalogue scientific data about sharks. The location of the sharks came from real sharks, though, that had been tagged, and the game played out in near realtime.
But here, Slavin, alongside CEO and former executive producer at FreemantleMedia Declan Caulfield
, is developing the "grandchild" of another Area/Code project: Backchannel
Area/Code debuted Backchannel along with MTV Networks
as a 'competitive commenting' system for its program 'The Hills
'. Co-viewers could click to promote various quips along with the television. Kenny Miller
, Starling's director of the Americas, was EVP/creative director for MTV Networks' global digital media business in 2008, when the two first came together.
'We learned a couple of important things from Backchannel,' Slavin says. 'A huge number of the conversations in social media are around what people were watching. With Backchannel we tried to structure that, with 'The Hills', with registering, and it was a classic walled garden. The only people who were going to be willing to talk about The Hills were the people that were willing to jump over the hurdles.'
Slavin describes Starling, which will work on mobile devices
, as aiming for the sweet spot between the tight controls of Backchannel, where die-hards are happy to play, but have to register, and the current social TV behaviours, which frequently are too loose. 'What we've seen from the way Twitter's been used with televsion, there's the problem if you don't structure the conversation at all. How can everyone who's chatting about Lost know the right hash tag?'
Co-viewing, according to Slavin, is a 'weird kind of attention', where the participatory bursts happen during lulls in the action. 'When there's a lull, they go back to the second screen and see what happens there,' he says. 'We built Starling around that experience, it's not built around perfect synchronous response, it's more about, in a much looser way, following along. it's like a little break within the experience of watching, that people are doing already.'
According to Nielsen
data, as of December 2009, 59 percent of US TV viewers were watching television and using the internet simultaneously
, a potentially massive audience that has yet to have a cohesive experience bringing the devices together.
'The answer is not giving somebody a badge for checking into a show', Slavin says, referencing Foursquare
. 'That's not the most meaningful thing relative to a show. It may be for a bar, but you don't arrive at 'Lost', you're engaged with it for an hour. The question is what does that engagement look like, and how do you reward that?'
Starling works by separating data streams into three distinct channels: your friends, what's popular, and everything else. The comments, generated from the app through onto Facebook or Twitter (or kept in the Starling platform) scroll across from right to left. There's only one action to do, other than generate a comment: to 'like' another comment by starring it.
As to the actual game mechanics, well, 'we're going to have to play around with that', Slavin says. 'There's a bunch of social conditions are going to be created here that we haven't seen before. Different social systems tend to produce different expectations. It's unclear what kind of social expectations are going to be produced with fandom with shows.'
Starling comments users choose to push to Facebook or Twitter will feature a shortcode and a code for that specific piece of content, or episode.
'If we can provide a structure for media the way Foursquare provided a structure for location', Slavin says, 'That's a win for everybody involved.'
The application, currently being engineered in Stockholm, will be available in the third quarter of 2010, but FreemantleMedia
(owners of American Idol
and The X Factor
, among other massive TV franchises) and JWT
have already signed on to integrate programming in the beta. Broadcasters and producers benefit, according to Slavin, in that they no long will have to 'sift, scrape and mine' for input and analytics on the shows. But it's broader than that, according to Slavin.
'We see it affecting how TV gets watched. Calling up the list of what is on tonight and seeing who is watching will totally change how decisions get made, in terms of how we watch.'
As far as advertising goes, there are further consolidation options. 'We're creating a platform for conversations around the show, and we're also creating inventory around those conversations. If you buy 30 seconds in 'Caprica', and sponsorship in Starling, it means a CMO doesn't have to figure out what the social media buy has to be, the ad seller can do it right there. It makes everybody's lives easier, but it's not just that -- the social media buy is going to be tied directly with the TV buy for the first time, and there are efficiencies there.'http://www.starling.tv/