Why Yahoo Bought IntoNow

Yahoo (s YHOO) scooped up TV check-in app maker IntoNow Monday, just three months after the startup introduced its first product. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but reports are putting the price anywhere between $17 and $30 million, and we hear from someone in the know that the price was north of $20 million. IntoNow’s team will stay on and continue to develop the product for Yahoo, we hear, with Android (s goog) and PC, as well as Mac (s aapl) versions of the client coming soon.

IntoNow launched an iOS app earlier this year that uses an audio fingerprinting technology called SoundPrint to identify and check into the TV show you’re watching. Essentially, it uses the iPad’s or iPhone’s microphone to listen to the audio of your TV speakers, matches this information with a large database of shows, then offers the ability to check into that show on Twitter, Facebook or IntoNow’s own social network.

So why did Yahoo buy IntoNow? The PR statement quoted Yahoo Product SVP Bill Shaughnessy saying that there are opportunities across Yahoo’s network, “especially in regards to our video content, search, mobile and Connected TV experiences.” It continued to point out an app like IntoNow will help Yahoo “on all screens.”

Noticed how they snuck Yahoo Connected TV in there? Yahoo’s widget platform has been losing steam lately, with companies like Vizio, Sony (s SNE) and Samsung looking to Google (s GOOG) TV to future-proof their TV sets. However, Yahoo introduced an interesting new feature for its TV widgets back in January.

Dubbed “broadcast interactivity,” the feature allows Yahoo to deliver complementary information based on the content you’re currently watching. For example, viewers of a car commercial can learn additional facts about the car or find a local dealer. Yahoo does this by utilizing audio fingerprinting, much in the same way that IntoNow listens to the audio of a show to identify it.

The problem is: Much of this content doesn’t make sense as a widget displayed on top of the TV show you’re watching. In fact, some content owners don’t like the idea of these types of widgets at all. However, it’s perfect for a two-screen experience. Yahoo could have built an iPad companion for its Connected TV platform. Instead, it decided to leapfrog the competition and buy a solution that’s proven to work.

But there are other benefits to this acquisition: Yahoo’s broadcast interactivity currently only works with a few select shows and channels. IntoNow, on the other hand, has a huge database of TV content that has aired in the U.S. in the last five years to power its SoundPrint technology. Yahoo can now leverage this database to kickstart broadcast interactivity before competitors like Google TV get their act together.