A consortium of television station group owners is launching a new technology that seeks to harness the second screen in the living room: the tablet or laptop computer.
These broadcasters will begin offering online content to supplement shows on TV, using software developed by social media start-up ConnecTV. An Apple Inc. iPad application automatically synchronizes the device with whatever program a viewer is watching, then delivers related information. Someone watching an NBA Finals game, for example, could review statistics about former L.A. Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On Tuesday, TV station owners in 40 major markets will start using ConnecTV's technology to offer supplemental content related to local news, weather, sports and entertainment programs. A total of 85 network television affiliates — though none in Los Angeles — will participate in the launch, with plans to roll out the offering to 215 stations throughout the country.
“Broadcasters haven't always been in early” on new technology, said Roger Keating, senior vice president of digital media for Hearst Television, which is among the 10 participating broadcasters. “This is a case where we saw an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of what may be the next dimension of social media.”
ConnecTV Chief Executive Ian Aaron said the company's technology was developed to capitalize on a trend playing out in homes across America. Nielsen found that 45% of consumers who used a tablet computer while watching TV were looking for information related to the show they were watching.
The content also is available through an Internet browser.
The phenomenon dubbed “social TV” — that is, using Facebook, Twitter or another specialized application to converse about a television show while watching it — is rapidly gaining in popularity. Bluefin Labs, a firm that analyzes social TV activity, has tracked an 800% jump in such activity over the last year, according to Tom Thai, the company's vice president of marketing.
“Different types of companies, from established media companies to start-up companies, [are trying] different things,” Thai said. “The consumer gets the benefit of that.”
ConnecTV's technology uses audio recognition to identify TV shows in real time, Aaron said. The technology works no matter whether a viewer is watching a show during its scheduled time or has recorded it and is watching later, he said.
Other features enable viewers to invite friends to join them for virtual “viewing parties,” where they would chat about shows as they watch simultaneously. The software can also recommend shows based on a person's viewing habits.
Hearst and the nine other local broadcasters formed the consortium to take advantage of new mobile technologies. They plan to use ConnecTV's software to offer customized information; for example, a local news anchor could invite viewers to participate in a poll, or a sportscaster could invite fans to join an online viewing party for an upcoming sporting event.
“Some of the most respected folks in town, which are our talent in our newscasts, will be giving their viewers opportunities to interact around the programming that we're showing on our channel,” said Hearst's Keating.
ConnecTV showcased its technology during the NCAA college basketball championship games, enabling sports fans to use their iPads to view at-a-glance player bios and real-time team and player stats for the game they were watching as well as for the entire season.