Blog Post

The Future of Social TV: It’s Not About the Check-In

Bazaar Labs CEO Somrat Niyogi isn’t holding back these days. “Check-ins isn’t it,” he told me bluntly during a phone conversation about the future of social TV experiences last week. That’s surprising, because Bazaar’s Miso service offers exactly that: Mobile phone applications that tell your friends which TV shows you’re watching by “checking in” to these shows in much the same way you’d share your location with a check-in on Foursquare.

“It’s definitely still very much a check-in service,” admitted Niyogi, but he told me that the San Francisco-based startup is getting ready to move on to bigger and better things. “It’s just a starting point,” he said — a feature that can help to get a conversation going, but not be the focus of a conversation. People don’t just want to share which show they watch, Niyogi said, they want to share specific information about a specific episode.

Bazaar Labs isn’t the only company trying to figure out how to make TV more social. The demand for this is huge: Twitter regularly sees spikes in participation when popular shows or live events air on TV. A number of startups have tried to leverage this by offering media-specific check-in tools that mimic Foursquare, even down to the badges awarded to users.

The Academy Awards, for example, recently teamed up with Miso competitor Getglue to offer its users special Oscars badges. And TV Guide just this week unveiled check-ins for its new sports section. Still, Niyogi remains skeptical about the future of check-ins, badges and other virtual rewards. “We don’t think badges and stickers are in the long run he reason that people come back,” he told me.

He is not the only one who has doubts about the current check-in experience. A number of companies have started to automate and enhance the process through audio fingerprinting, which allows mobile devices to recognize what you’re watching simply by listening to a show’s audio track.

The advantage of this approach is that a service not only knows what show you’re watching, but actually how far into the episode you currently are, making it possible to display context-relevant information. ABC (s DIS) is currently experimenting with an iPad app that utilizes this technology to deliver related information and ads while users watch select Grey’s Anatomy episodes.

Bazaar recently ran a similar test with an Android app that connected to Boxee to deliver context-relevant information about a handful of TV show episodes. The results? Not so good, according to Niyogi’s honest assessment: “People found it somewhat annoying,” he told me. Participants in the test told the company that they’d prefer to have control over the information they receive. “It’s actually very difficult to push the right information at the right time” to viewers, Niyogi explained.

So how do you make TV more social? By building the better water cooler and enabling people to have conversations about content. That’s a domain currently owned by Twitter. However, the micro-blogging service and its constant stream of updates service works best for live events, and not so much for on-demand viewing on Netflix. (s NFLX) “We don’t think Twitter is good at that,” said Niyogi. Miso wants to take a first step towards becoming more conversational with the next version of its iOS app, which is scheduled to come out in a few weeks.

Check out this excellent NewTeeVee Live talk about Twitter as the new global water cooler from Twitter’s Robin Sloan:

5 Responses to “The Future of Social TV: It’s Not About the Check-In”

  1. shawnpcunningham

    Well, I started to read these comments thinking I would see some great feedback from users, but… :) Since this is what is here, I will chime in on yap.TV’s behalf.

    I think this article is spot on, and I would go further to say that check-ins are a gimmick in the social TV space. yap.TV has been in the market since last September pioneering interactivity between TV fans, and we are currently filtering over 5,000 shows with a relevance filter to ensure the right juicy show streams are delivered into shows automatically. Further, we added cool features like real-time friend detection, polls, and group chat across IOS devices (more to come here!).

    What’s more, we are totally integrated with national TV programming, so new communities of conversation can automagically be created for fans as new shows come on TV.

    I think check-in is best for locations, like hotels or bars, but do not think it is a great substitution for an interactive experience in the social TV space.

    We have a huge head start in mining the Twittersphere and creating engagement features for TV fans, and are placing our bets on the fact that millions of Twitterers are already doing this activity.

    We recently were in a shootout with a couple of other social TV players in the TechCrunch Fly or Die video series, and they gave us “two flys” (a first for the series) and dissed a competitor stating that check-ins are just a start and not an engaging experience.

    Expect to see very cool things coming from yap.TV, and I can promise you that check-ins, badges, and stickers are not on the road map.

  2. Regardless of whether it is via an explicit or automatic gesture, the concept of a check-in is vital for these services.

    Without it there is no context. Without context there can be no additional value.

    Is the check-in the sole value? Heck no. But it is the gateway to the right experience.

  3. The importance of the check-in relies heavily on what the user means when they check-in. Check-in for content and check-in for location are two different things. I will focus on check-in for content because it is now being defined by us PHILO and others in the social TV and content check-in space. At PHILO we restrict the number of check-ins a person can have during a given time period because we want quality check-ins that reflect actual real time tune ins and not an abundance of check-ins that are made to rack up points on the website. For content the check-in can eventually be synonymous and even surpass the “Like” if users check-in on what they are really watching and what they really care about. We want the check-in to mean I like this and I am watching it now. So cultivating a system that allows limited check-ins will in turn create more accurate data, encourage focused communication around the show the members are currently watching, and will result in increased tune in by friends of the members who want to be apart of meaningful conversations regarding a show they love. PHILO is about more than just the check-in but we take it very seriously.

  4. You are absolutely right, it’s not about the check-in. You can see that in the twitter stream during a popular television show–check-ins are not an entry-point for conversation, they are an advertisement and are ignored as such.

    Twitter itself is far better at giving people the ability to comment on a show, but there is tons of extraneous information that isn’t show-related that it requires a lot of attention to sort through it. And following the hashtags for a popular show, especially with a livestream viewer is physically impossible.

    At, we’re providing exactly the experience you talk about in this article. Not just a virtual watercooler to discuss what you saw the night or the hour before, but a virtual living room where you can gather with other people who are watching the same thing you are and who want to talk about and share that experience with you.

    We’re just starting out, and already we’ve learned that people really love not only being able to say “did you see that?!?” but also to hear “Yes, I did! Can you believe it!” right back. Conversation and interaction are what makes TV truly social.

  5. I think that check-ins are very important first step in social tv. Its the basic gesture of interactivity. If you can’t get users to check-in, you won’t be able to get them to have conversations.

    We are seeing strong evidence that people who are checking in on GetGlue are excited about the service and enjoy the check-in behavior.

    The rewards are also necessary, as they provide immediate positive feedback.

    In terms of check-in being “the only thing” of course its not. Entertainment is about having fun and reach experience, seeing what your friends are into, discovering new content to consume and rating things you consumed in the past and of course having conversations.

    That’s how we think about GetGlue – as a set of fun experiences around entertainment.