You're sitting on the couch with the TV on and phone in hand. As a commercial starts, a smartphone app hears what you're watching.
It then serves up links, coupons or music downloads corresponding to what it hears on the tube through smartphone microphones. So if you tend to impulse buy, the next time you're watching one of those late-night infomercials you might want to set your phone aside.
In recent months, logos for music-identifying service Shazam have popped up in Procter & Gamble, Honda or American Express commercials. Progressive Insurance, Starbucks and Paramount have also linked to mobile content through Shazam tags in their commercials or web videos. The ads prompt viewers to launch Shazam with the company's logo or a call-out, and if they do, the app brings up links their websites, discounts or other goodies.
One of the earliest users is Old Navy. The retailer's chief marketing officer, Amy Curtis-McIntyre, talked about the company's Shazam ads at Ad Age 's Digital Conference this past spring. When consumers used the app to identify any of the songs heard in Old Navy spots, styling tips, deals and key looks featured in the commercial popped up.
So why exactly are so many advertisers rushing to use the listening technology?
"Fundamentally [these apps] give you a way to quantify engagement in an environment where there haven't been many metrics others than ratings or call center calls," said Sloan Broderick, director-innovations for MediaCom.
"What Shazam for TV is doing is , instead of remembering a URL or going to a Facebook page, viewers just click the little button [in the app] and they're there," said Evan Krauss, exec VP-advertising sales for Shazam.
Shazam, the No. 4 most-downloaded free mobile app ever, according to Apple, recently added TV tagging to its music-identifying service, which became popular for telling smartphone users what song was playing in their vicinity with a click of a button. But Shazam for TV can also identify programming or commercials to bring up any manner of content. In June, Shazam announced $32 million in additional venture funding, largely to expand its TV product.
Cable networks Bravo, Oxygen and Syfy have used Shazam for TV to promote shows in their summer lineups. When prompted, viewers that Shazam (translation: launch the app and click the button to "listen") during shows get links to additional content or contests.
Other networks are forgoing Shazam and its cohorts to launch their own apps to be used alongside TV programming. MTV Networks did an early test with Shazam and has since opted to build its own so-called co-viewing apps, VH1 CoStar and the soon-to-be-released MTV Watch With, said Kristin Frank, general manager for MTV and VH1 Digital. These apps, however, don't have listening technology and instead follow along with manual controls.
"We think we can provide the experience the consumer wants if we have control," Ms. Frank said. "We're also highly focused on how we can bring ad partners into the experience, too." Shazam, for example, is selling programs to advertisers as its newest revenue stream.
With listening technology that loosely mimics Shazam's, ABC launched apps to serve ancillary trivia in step with the now defunct TV show "My Generation" last fall and, more recently, "Grey 's Anatomy," thanks to Nielsen Media Sync technology.
And Shazam is hardly alone. Using Bluetooth and a piece of hardware not yet included in TV sets, Toronto company iSign Media has designed CouponIO to send coupons from commercials to mobile handsets. Another company with audio fingerprinting technology like Shazam's, WiOffers, will be launching soon.
The question remains whether everyday boob-tubers are actually using the technology. Shazam reports that out of the 125 million people who have downloaded the app, the number using it for TV is in the seven-figure ballpark, a spokeswoman said. However, Shazam has tens of millions of people who have used it to identify the music in TV and commercials, she added.
Scale is the biggest problem facing mobile apps or even web services or chat rooms around TV viewing, MediaCom's Mr. Broderick said. "With increasing frequency we see people using smartphones while watching TV, but not really at scale," he said.
Early reports that show consumers are indeed glued to their phones while watching TV work in the category's favor. Some 68% of all smartphone users said they use their smartphone while watching TV, according to a first-quarter Nielsen survey of more than 12,000 consumers that own a tablet, eReader, smartphones or other mobile device. The group said 20% of all time spent on smartphones was while watching TV -- that 's the largest percentage of time for any activity addressed in the survey. What's more, users surf the mobile web and use apps most during the evening, overlapping with TV prime time, according to recent studies from third-party ad server MediaMind and mobile ad network Jumptap.