In November, i.TV announced it was buying the social-TV app/platform GetGlue; I spoke with i.TV founder-CEO Brad Pelo at the time and he explained why. Now I've spoken with him again to get him to explain why i.TV is rebranding GetGlue as TVtag, effective today, as well as introducing a new iPhone app. What follows is a lightly edited and compressed transcript of our phone conversation.
Simon Dumenco: So this is about something more than just a name change.
Brad Pelo: What we're announcing is bigger than GetGlue becoming TVtag, it's actually a unification of our partners and the GetGlue audience into a single audience that will be called TVtag. So to the GetGlue users it means their app will now be called TVtag. To DirecTV and Nintendo users [which use i.TV's back-end technology to power their social-TV apps], it means that the DirecTV- and Nintendo-branded services – Nintendo's is Nintendo TV and DirecTV's is CoPilot -- will keep their brands. It's just that we will now combine everyone's audiences into one single audience. So now we will be by far the largest TV second-screen community and also bring to the launch 70 of the broadcast networks.
Dumenco: Does that mean that preexisting relationships that you had through GetGlue -- like The CW promoting their shows through GetGlue – those networks are now going to become TVtag sponsors, basically?
Pelo: That's right.
Dumenco: One of the networks that GetGlue worked with, and now TVtag will, is NBC, which I'm curious about. Obviously there are competing second-screen products and NBC Universal has invested in Zeebox. I guess everybody is sort of experimenting with a little bit of everything, regardless of their investments.
Pelo: That's right. I think it's fair to say that to the broadcasters it's about connecting with their audience and at least to date we haven't seen any exclusivity. They're there to support the larger audiences and certainly we have the largest so they continue to work very closely with us.
Dumenco: So far nobody is saying they're not going to work with you because they put money into a competing product?
Pelo: That's right. And case in point, DirecTV made an investment in i.TV but DirecTV also has a relationship with Viggle, and they promote the Viggle service. I think everybody's here to learn and grow the market.
Dumenco: The GetGlue brand will be discontinued entirely?
Pelo: It will. Across everything -- the website and the apps -- it will disappear.
Dumenco: That really underscores that when you bought GetGlue you were buying essentially the IP and the access to the community, not the brand.
Pelo: You know, interestingly enough, when we were doing the early exploration with the GetGlue team, they told us about their plans to rebrand GetGlue, so this was actually a plan well underway. They had a different brand in mind than the TVtag brand we're going with now, but nonetheless they themselves had determined that the GetGlue brand no longer described the value proposition that they were delivering for market.
Dumenco: How long did it take you to come up with the TVtag brand?
Pelo: TVtag is a brand that i.TV registered long ago with the idea that it could become a consumer brand. And now is the perfect time to pull it out and try it out.
Dumenco: So there wasn't a squatter on the URL -- you guys had the original registration and just have been hanging onto it?
Dumenco: Well, good for you. Anyway, for the average GetGlue user, how does TVtag change their user experience?
Pelo: TVtag is about contextualization. On Twitter, when I tweet about Sunday night's "Revenge" episode, it's interspersed with all the brouhaha about Governor Chris Christie's revenge episode and other things, and so we're in this world where the larger audience of Twitter is intermixing with the specific audience of "Revenge." With TVtag, users will check into their show and then they're brought to what we call a tagline, and this tagline is contextualized down to the moment, the story moment. The audience can kind of jump in at that point and say whatever they want and contribute content and respond to polls and share memes, or whatever they want around that moment. And as the show progresses, one of these moments gets added every two to three minutes just depending on what's happening. Football games, you know, it's going to be every play. A basketball game it might be every point scored. But there's this frequency of moments, we call them tags, that accrue as you're watching television and you can easily interact at the moment level. In the TVtag app you see a screenshot of the moment, a description written by a professional describing the moment, and then you see all the social interaction around that one moment.
Dumenco: A screenshot plus a description written by a professional? How are you managing that content creation?
Pelo: We have on staff here 50 professional curators and these are folks whose job is to watch television with their headsets. They sit at a computer, they're assigned a network and it's their job to curate that network.
Dumenco: When did you bring on these people?
Pelo: We brought them on in phases over the last year. We had a small group that started out with the launch of Nintendo TV where we experimented with this and then with the launch of DirecTV's CoPilot service last month we had ramped it up to the full 50. So yeah, around the clock we have employees who are literally watching television and curating the experience.
Dumenco: I'm trying to picture the center where this is happening. Is it literally people sitting in rows with monitors watching, like -- Person A watches USA Network, Person B is watching ABC, etc.?
Pelo: That's exactly what it is. In our office is a big open bay and we have these tables lined up with iMacs on them and everybody is wearing a headset and watching TV.
Dumenco: Do you have concerns about the mental health of this crew? Like, are they watching eight hours a day of television? I hope you have like a nap room and on-staff massage therapists. This is hard work!
Pelo: [laughs] Yeah, it is. They're on four-hour schedules -- they rotate. The good news is that not all live television is new television, so once they've curated a show we have the tagline for that show and when it rebroadcasts the tagline replays.
Dumenco: How many networks are you watching and tagging?
Pelo: We cover 70 right now – over-the-air and top cable networks -- and then we also cover 100 percent of broadcast sports. These folks are getting paid to watch their favorite TV shows because we do tend to give people the networks that they love, so obviously all of those sporting events are being curated by diehard sports fans.
Dumenco: All these folks are based in Utah? [i.TV is headquartered in Provo, Utah.]
Pelo: They are. We have an overflow team on the East Coast which we use in case there's an outage. There's some redundancy, but the majority of them are here in Utah.
Dumenco: So, your business model. You think you can afford paying all these people to watch television because you're confident that you'll not only be able to build the TVtag community, but marketers will be able to leverage the TVtag community in ways that they haven't been able to with other platforms, because you're more contextual? That's the big presumption here?
Pelo: Yeah. We're willing to make the investment because we think this is the only way ultimately marketers are going to pay from TV-ad-spend dollars instead of from digital dollars -- we engage TV audiences in the moment with advertisers.
Dumenco: What's the next big step for you in terms of monetizing this tagging system – meaning, getting big brands involved beyond the level of involvement they had with GetGlue?
Pelo: We have already, in the last few months, done some initial tests with some of our other platform partners, so think Nintendo, DirecTV, with some big-name advertisers, and, again, contextual advertising. It's about what's on the TV at the time and those tests have done extremely well. If you watch with us during the Super Bowl you might see some experiences that are unique to contextual advertising. So this will be sort of a rolling-forward effort. Initially it will be about unifying the community with these new contextual features, but quickly we will be rolling out new ad experiences.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.