Social TV, participatory TV, connected television – whatever you want to call it, it’s one of 2012’s most important tech trends. In the United States, IntoNow, GetGlue, Miso, and Shazam are among those vying for top spots. While Zeebox dominates the UK, Germany’s rising stars include TunedIn, Zapitano and Tweek.tv.
TunedIn recently went live with its 2.0 app for the iPhone. Founders Sebastian Bartz and Justin Scull, from Berlin and New York respectively, are now planning a rollout for the iPad, Android and web. While they’ve started off in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the app is already available in English and TunedIn is planning its official US and UK release later this year. VentureVillage asked Scull for his insider’s take on the social TV buzz and where TunedIn is heading.
How did you and Sebastian meet and start the company?
We met about four, five years ago. I was in Germany working for management consultancy Homburg & Partner, based out of Mannheim. We worked on several international consulting projects together so that’s kind of where the friendship started.
We started the company two years ago, in the fall of 2010, here in the US. Sebastian (pictured bottom right, Justin top right) was over here on holiday and I ran the whole idea by him and he fell in love with it right away. For about four months, we were doing everything remotely. He was in Berlin and I was here in the States. When we started the technical development side, I moved to Berlin fulltime and then we developed the product over the course of the year.
Our definite goal is to come back to the US. We only wanted to bring the product back to the US once we had a platform approach.
You’ve just launched a new TV guide app in partnership with Axel Springer’s TV Digital. How important is that partnership?
We think the traditional TV guide system is broken. It wasn’t involved, it hasn’t adapted with the times. So what we’re doing is adding a social layer on top. It’s not so much just what’s on and where to watch it, it’s also who else is watching, what’s trending, what are people talking about, and the idea of having a rated experience. Ultimately, where we’re headed is being able to say what show is most applicable based on your preferences, your taste graph.
So it covers conventional TV channels and you’re also able to go through the app to content streamed on YouTube for example?
Yeah, exactly. So say you want to watch, How I Met Your Mother – it’s only on TV so often. We allow you to set reminders or you can connect through affiliate partners, so going into iTunes and streaming it. Unfortunately, the European market’s not as developed as the US market in terms of streaming platforms but we do see a big push for this in the near future. HuLu is making a push now into the German market, Netflix is entering the European market and as these streaming platforms come on board, we going to be hooking up to more and more of them.
You get a cut from your partners. Will you introduce ads?
Ads aren’t sexy! We really want to stay away from advertisements as best we can. Right now, we’re exclusively on the iPhone – we’ll be rolling out on Android and iPad later this year. Especially on iPhone, advertisements really destroy the user experience.
Where we see advertisements coming into play is where the user can actually get a benefit from that. We’re seeing, in the near future, a real push towards interactive or participatory ads. You’ll watch, for example, a McDonalds commercial and you’ll get a coupon pushed to your second screen automatically.
How are you funded?
Up until now, we’ve pretty much bootstrapped. We’ve had a few strategic partners and some other partnerships… It’s amazing what you get through a major strategic partner in terms of media or channel-based partnership, so that’s the avenue we’re hoping to go in the near future.
What’s the difference between social TV and participatory TV?
Up until now, social TV has been more the check-in, the tune-in model. You share what you’re watching and engage with other people watching the show, whether it’s your friends or the audience at large. At least up until now, the lion’s share of that has been via Twitter. So what TunedIn’s really done is replace the Twitter model, where you basically have social noise around a specific topic that you have to then filter by hashtag. What we’re pushing for is a channel experience, a TV show experience around each show.
That allows us to develop participatory television or interactive television, which we see as the real future. One of the concept’s we’re working on right now is called “tap to clap”. So if you’re watching a show like Deutschland sucht den Superstar, there’s just a natural tendency at the end of a great performance to want to clap. What if you had eight million people watching in Germany and what if they could all clap along on their second screen by tapping the screen in real time? And then curate the numbers and stacks in realtime and potentially have this influence the show, kind of like a social barometer.
We really think there’s ultimately going to be about three players globally that are really going to own the second screen. What we want to do is throw our hat in the ring, in terms of really having an opportunity to play in this space.
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Credit for image of TunedIn co-founder Justin Scull: Tonka Performance PR