I recently spoke with Chris Stephenson, the president of Function(x), a mysterious (until then) new company from Robert F.X. Sillerman, the serial media entrepreneur. Function(x) was getting ready to introduce Viggle, a social-TV platform promising to give users free stuff for watching TV.
Today the free Viggle app officially launches in the iTunes store for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch with backing from "strategic launch partners" Verizon Communications, Pepsi, Gatorade, Capital One and Burger King. The rewards that TV viewers can earn by "checking in" to their favorite TV shows on Viggle include free movie tickets from Fandango and gift cards from Sephora and Burger King.
Why do we need a rewards program for TV? Mr. Stephenson addressed that question in our conversation last week:
Think about it: Everything that you buy, from coffee to airline tickets, to wherever you're spending money, there's typically a loyalty program in place. It's quite a simple model in that you spend a dollar, the company reserves a penny and packages that up as a loyalty program and delivers it back to you in some cool, brand-relevant way. For six years I was the head of marketing for MTV Europe, and we looked at loyalty programs, and the thing that we found then is still true today: Networks don't have a direct relationship with the audience. The relationship with the audience is actually with the cable company in terms of the financial transaction, but the cable company doesn't have the geographic reach needed to create a horizontal program. So what you've got is a world where the television-show brands are very popular but the networks aren't really in a position to give anything back to the consumer.
You can read the rest of the interview here.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.