NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For TV, check-ins are the new black. But as more and more networks and studios try it on, Facebook has yet to make a major move in the space. If and when it does, it probably won't bode well for smaller players pioneering the space.
In October, TVGuide.com will launch a check-in feature that uses basic Facebook technology to let visitors to the site click a button to broadcast on social networks what they're watching, or plan to watch, on TV. So far, networks and movie studios have partnered with apps from social TV startups such as GetGlue, Miso and Philo, and Comcast's project Tunerfish, to reward viewers for posting about their content when they're using their phones or the internet while watching. But thanks to Facebook tools, TVGuide was able to build check-ins on its own, without a partner.
"It's a new space, but one that has very quickly become standard as a convenience feature for people that want to share what they are watching with their social circle," said Jim Lanzone, CEO of Clicker, an online video directory that also hosts a check-in feature.
While the "check-in" for media is really only a viewer updating a Facebook or Twitter status with what's on the tube, the term came to TV via location-based services like Foursquare. Those mobile apps, called "checking in," the action of getting users to whip out their phones, find their locations and press a button to send that info to social circles. With a similar mechanism for media rather than location, social TV apps co-opted the term -- Miso, for one, launched as the "Foursquare for TV." But that shared functionality could also mean social TV could suffer the same fate as location-based services: Facebook could be coming soon, especially since the social network acquired the check-in service Hot Potato last month.
In the course of the year, location-based apps became popular on the backs of apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt. Then, last month, Facebook launched Places, its own location-based check-in for its 150 million users that makes updates from their phones. Two days after Places launched, Facebook acquired Hot Potato, a young company with a killer app and tech to check into, well, anything.
"If Facebook has already determined that they want to let you check in to Places, it would make sense that they'd want to let you check in to 'Seinfeld,'" said Mr. Lanzone.
Facebook does not have any plans around TV check-ins, said a company spokeswoman in an e-mail. Though developers can integrate Places technology into various services as it makes sense for them, she added. Checking in, after all, only really associates a Facebook user with a piece of content, much like if a user "liked" a show with one of those thumbs-up buttons that have been littered across the internet since April.
Facebook is meeting with networks to talk about social-TV check-ins and gauge interest for check-ins into media, according to one network executive, meaning the social network is at least in research mode for social TV. Facebook declined to comment on the matter.
As with Places, Facebook has the potential to turn on the functionality for 500 million users, while the social-TV startups scrape together audiences through cross-promotion with big media companies, press outreach and pass-along recommendations.
But size isn't the only thing Facebook has going for it. Those startups also keep check-in data (user preferences on TV shows, movies and music) in isolation. If one entity -- Facebook, for example -- owned the media check-in, all those expressed preferences could ladder up to one more extensive log of what people are watching. The concept, again, resembles Facebook's vision for its open-graph platform that relies on Like buttons.
Facebook technology is a big part of TVGuide's check-in largely because each check-in can also be a status update, but also because that's where a lot of entertainment data already lives. "The recent like button implementation has also made it vastly easier for us to synch users' favorites and for users to designate new favorites," said Christy Tanner, senior VP-general manager, TVGuide Digital, a family of websites and mobile apps that includes TVGuide.com. "We want to let people check-in where they want to; we don't need to retain the check-in.... We want the opportunity for our audience to update Facebook and Twitter, which are the two key social networks in the entertainment space right now."
"Check-in is a really key function but lets not forget what this is really about, which is individual users' set of favorite shows," she added. TVGuide.com already uses Facebook preferences to auto-populate visitors online DVRs with shows they've liked on Facebook and also displays friends' favorites. The end game is a smart platform that can predict what viewers will like. The online video site Clicker is also trying to build a recommendation engine based on preferences and viewing habits captured on its own site.
TVGuide.com is launching check-ins for shows listed in its editorial feature, The Hot List. Users can post that they are watching or intend to watch from the widget listing what the site's editorial staff recommends. So far, both ABC and Starbucks have signed on as sponsors. ABC can buy placements to guarantee placements for its shows and Starbucks is skinning the check-in widget. The feature will launch first on TVGuide websites, which ComScore reports had nearly 8 million uniques in August, and will eventually port over to its mobile apps, which have been downloaded a total of 2 million times.
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