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Media check-in apps make an antisocial activity like watching TV a social event


October 14th, 2010

Several apps appear to let users tell friends what they're watching in real time.

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While Facebook's new Places feature dukes it out with Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp to corner the market in location-based social media apps, another kind of check-in is catching on quietly among smartphone users.

With this one, people don't populate status updates with where they are, but what films and television programs they're watching.

And don't think they're not watching.

"The average American watches four hours of TV every day. That's 28 a week. That's almost a full-time job," said Somrat Niyogi, creator of the San Francisco-based Miso, one of the leading media check-in apps. "TV is downtime. It's a tough life, a tough economy " people love to get entertained, relax and connect with each other. That's not a bad thing."

For use on mobile devices, free apps like Miso, GetGlue, Philo, fflick, Tunerfish and Hot Potato allow users to instantly share viewing habits with friends and strangers.

For example, taking in an episode of "Mad Men"? Check in, leave a comment (i.e. "My fave part of the week: Don Draper and a vodka gimlet!"), and see what others are saying about it. Or peruse what pals' eyeballs are tuned to instead, and carry on a virtual conversation about it.

"For me, GetGlue is a fun way to be excited about things I like and share that excitement with other people," said Chad Henderson, co-founder of the Oklahoma City Coworking Collaborative. "When I started watching 'True Blood,' I was able to 'check in' to (it), almost like it was a location. This showed up in my Facebook and started a fun conversation with friends."

And that, said Alex Iskold, creator of the New York City-based GetGlue, is the intent. His app even extends check-ins to books, music, celebrities and wine.

"People want to share their entertainment consumption with each other," Iskold said. "Even in the age of Twitter, it's still hard to know what your friends are watching, what books they're reading. There's a big opportunity here."

WATERCOOLER 2.0

For J.D. Shaklee, an Edmond underwriter, downloading Miso on his iPhone was like a revelation.

"I have one friend at work I go on break with. What do we talk about? Usually TV and movies," he said. "Her tastes run a little more mainstream than mine, so, at some point, we run out of stuff to chat about. I'm interested in finding out who else watches my favorite shows or what new show I'm missing. I can't be aware of every quality " or hilarious non-quality " show out there."

Problem solved ... annnnd created.

Said Shaklee, "I am weary of the link to my Facebook and "¦ those friends who might be disturbed by what I am watching. I wonder what they think when I post I am watching 'Dead Snow,' a Swedish Nazi-zombie film."

Nevertheless, using Miso has helped save him the time of combing through websites and podcasts to find those hidden gems like he had in the past.

"I plan to Miso the shit out of the new season for (FX's) 'Sons of Anarchy,'" Shaklee said. "I'm gonna be like a one-man street team."

Niyogi is happy to hear that, and not only because he chose the name Miso because he wanted a word that users eventually would use as a verb, à la Xerox.

"It brings something you do anyway and makes it simpler and more fun," Niyogi said. "In middle America, TV is a big part of social life. It's the watercooler conversation of the last 50 years: 'Did you watch "Lost" last night? Oh, my god, what'd you think?' If you're going to be talking about what you're watching, might as well have a little fun. We're all super-fans of something."

And sometimes to an alarming degree, according to Ryan Baker, a Norman blogger who runs the Movies Make Good website at filmbaker.posterous.com.

"Miso will make you acutely aware of how much of a time-suck media consumption can be. It helps that my colossal vanity demands something as insignificant as the TV episodes and film titles I watch be recorded for posterity," Baker said. "Miso has also reinforced how awesome my taste in my movies is."

Henderson finds GetGlue "strangely addictive," as well.

"The completist in me wants to click on the 'I Like' buttons until I have listed every movie I have ever liked in the history of all cinema," he said. "I lose a lot of time doing that."

RATE AND YE SHALL RECEIVE
But he doesn't come out of it empty-handed, as GetGlue offers him recommendations on other media, based solely upon his likes and dislikes of things he's rated. As with location-based apps, these media-based apps reward usage digitally with a variety of badges.

The Google Ventures-funded Miso also offers access to multimedia fan clubs on select shows, and by checking into certain titles " such as Comedy Central's "Roast of David Hasselhoff" or the DVD of "Hot Tub Time Machine" " users can unlock limited-edition badges specially created for that programming.

Similarly, GetGlue has partnered with networks and studios to create branded stickers for cable series like "Dexter" and "Hung," and movies such as "Clash of the Titans" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Going a step further, users can request physical copies of the stickers they earn, for free. (Henderson admitted to an addiction to affixing them to his laptop.)

Iskold said tailoring GetGlue's concept to bridge the physical and digital rewards has been "so much fun."

"It's so interesting to people," he said. "We're slowly digitizing ourselves, but emotionally and mentally, we're still physical beings. Getting something as simple as a sticker from your favorite brand goes a long way."

Referring to what he says venture capitalists are calling "the gamification of life," Niyogi said the reward aspect is just scratching the surface of what he deems the experience of "the second screen."

"The big thing that's happening is people are doing things while they watch TV. They're on their laptops, on their mobile devices, tweeting constantly on Twitter. As a matter of fact, Google search results spike while they're watching TV," he said. "You expect a different experience on the second screen, moving beyond the check-in to be the best place to get info on what you're watching.

"How do we making watching TV fundamentally better? What you're seeing is the first step in this business: making it easy for people to share what they watch, and making it fun for them to do so. What I can tell you is the future of the second screen is going to be something you will use the entire time you watch TV."

For example, Niyogi said Miso users will able to chat, talk smack, take quizzes, participate in polls " even get information on, say, what actress Joanne Kelly is wearing on that week's "Warehouse 13," and click a button to order it instantly. He's even exploring ways through partnerships for users to redeem the points they accumulate upon check-in for prizes or discounts at area establishments.

"We want to make TV more social and more fun," he said. "Why can't life be a little more fun? How can you bring that dinner conversation to digital life?"

AD-DED VALUE
Iskold thinks the media check-in arena will be "one of the hottest markets of this fall," thanks to the smartphone-savvy set already used to the Foursquare model.

"This is just the beginning," he said.

While Henderson predicts these apps will have a "short, but robust lifecycle" before "people get bored and start moving on to something else," Baker believes such apps "are going to become more and more a part of users' daily lives and routines." And that, he said, will attract marketers to realize the software's potential.

Michelle Langston, director of film promotions and publicity for Moroch Entertainment's Oklahoma City office, said she's already seeing them being drawn.

"Film studios and publicists are continually monitoring how films are tracking with the general moviegoer, and these (apps) are all additional tools that offer a real-time response," said Langston, a Miso and fflick user. "We now can know what someone thought about a film the minute the end credits roll and they grab their smartphone. This, of course, can be a double-edged sword, either helping to propel positive word of mouth, or conversely, negative sentiment in a matter of seconds."

Both Niyogi and Iskold hope their apps " which together boast more than half a million users, after less than a year of launching " can carve out a fair share of advertisers' budgetary pies. Niyogi noted that the television ad business rings to the tune of $74 billion.

"Eyeballs are not 100 percent dedicated to the TV screen," he said, noting Nielsen data shows 60 percent of audiences are simultaneously on the Internet at least once a month, up 35 percent from last year. "If I can show the world that for a 30-minute episode, you're engaged (with the app) for three minutes, you can argue that 10 percent of that money should be devoted to the second screen."

Television already spurs viewers to get out and explore the world around them, Niyogi said, adding that news stories or commercials about a new local restaurant result in people checking the place out. Apps like Miso, he said, can do the same thing " just wrapped in a different bow.

Iskold agreed that "a giant opportunity" exists, but that "the endgame is to build a company that connects friends, but through entertainment."

"We're not here to think too hard," he said. "We're here to have a good time." "Rod Lott
 
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