Check in Before You Check Out That Show

New Loyalty Apps Proving to Be a Win-Win for TV Viewers, Networks

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- You can now check in to TV shows like you can to your corner bar. But what's a check-in worth to networks if they can't send viewers buy one, get one free happy-hour specials?

The new breed of check-in apps aim to take the behavior made popular by Foursquare -- in short, tapping a button to say, "I'm here" -- to entertainment properties like TV shows, movies and even books. Just like location apps, the list of check-in start-ups for content is already long: Miso, Philo, Starling and GetGlue have snagged deals with media companies as a means to cross-promote, build brands and reward loyal viewers.

Checking in to 'Modern Family' has its privileges.
Checking in to 'Modern Family' has its privileges.
GetGlue, which reports 200,000 total check-ins per day, will be launching a program with Fox where the network will promote new series to viewers of its existing shows. Viewers that check-in to the popular series "Glee" will get notices on its new comedy "Raising Hope," while viewers of "Bones" will get an alert on the new drama "Lone Star." When fans check in and unlock stickers (an incentive equivalent to Foursquare's badge) for existing shows, they can earn an additional sticker for watching a trailer for a new series.

These apps are also shaping into loyalty programs where networks can reward their super fans. "Checking in is a repetitive behavior that demonstrates continuity," said Alex Iskold, GetGlue founder-CEO. "I can like 'True Blood' on Facebook, or I can check in to 'True Blood' every Sunday night, religiously. It demonstrates I'm a better fan that just someone who Likes."

HBO has used GetGlue more than other services that it's tested, including Tunerfish and Clicker.com. Its check-in programs, for shows such as "Entourage" and "Hung," are primarily badge-based and focus on rewarding check-in behavior or watching at a certain time.

"Rewarding brand ambassadors is a key component of our social-media strategy and this is one way we do that," said Sabrina Caluori, HBO director-marketing and social media. "Rewards can be as simple as holding somebody up in an exalted position or re-tweeting from the official 'True Blood' Twitter handle. When a fan engages in behavior that helps us spread the word, we try to encourage that behavior."

These content-specific apps are still too small for Kristin Frank, general manager for MTV and VH1 Digital. She says Twitter or Facebook, which recently acquired check-in-to-anything service Hot Potato, would make more sense for TV check-ins because they have the level of users that better match the mass audiences of TV. "The big question is who ends up being able to harness the mainstream," she said. "I don't know if it's realistic that people are going to go to separate products to do that."

While MTV has launched a number of check-in programs with Foursquare, which reports 3 million users, the network has not yet experimented with the check-in apps specifically for TV.

To date, MTV's programs have focused on extending content into the real world rather than keeping the check-in about what's on screen. A recently launched program for its Video Music Awards gives a Moonman badge to users that check in to music venues, along with a chance to win tickets to the show.

"Social media, in general, certainly has its marketing opportunities with the right messaging," Ms. Frank said, adding that MTV has decided to separate social-media outreach groups from marketing. "The difference is that we create content and editorialize things. It's a further way to extend our programming reach."

GetGlue's Mr. Iskold also sees check-in apps as a window into the "taste graph of entertainment." "Think about the aggregate information on how people are consuming entertainment," he said. "How many people are reading a book and seeing a certain movie? What are the patterns that can emerge when you look at fans of 'True Blood'?" Though, at this point, HBO's Ms. Caluori said she hasn't seen any GetGlue data that's new to her.

One coming social media for TV app, Starling, is less concerned with the check-in altogether. Cofounders Kevin Slavin and Kenny Miller are betting that check-in apps will be more than just marketing devices. Out in October, Starling will concentrate on extending TV programming into social media. "Trying to treat a TV event as if it were a Starbucks and giving badges for walking through the door is misunderstanding what a TV show is about," Mr. Miller said. That reasoning will also see networks' advertisers extend into social media, too. "There are interesting new opportunities to empower networks to find new ad dollars in this space," Mr. Miller added, though he declined to provide any specifics. "Not only are we innovating on the user experience, we're also innovating ad-supported models."

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