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Second-Screen Startup Syncs With TV from the Cloud

Two buzzwords in one little startup? Meet New York-based SecondScreen Networks.

In the TV industry lately, a red-hot concept is that of a “second-screen experience,” in which viewers get additional info, content or ads on an iPad or other handheld device that corresponds with what they’re watching on TV.

It’s interactive TV, but without having to put the interactive stuff on TV. Companies attacking this space include Shazam Entertainment, Invidi Technologies, IntoNow and Spot411 Technologies (see Interactive TV Moves to Second Screen).

And, as you’d expect given its name, there’s SecondScreen Networks. Seth Tapper, a serial Silicon Alley entrepreneur, founded the company in September 2010 with angel funding and now has five full-time employees.

“We’ve seen Intercast, the Full Service Network, Canoe Ventures — but nobody has really figured out how to get single-screen interactive TV to scale,” Tapper says. “But it’s already at scale if you look at Twitter.”

Tapper says SecondScreen is trying to become the “DoubleClick of the social TV companion space,” basically brokering advertisers with content owners.

But — and here’s where he thinks he has an advantage — SecondScreen is doing it without any client-side code. The company’s idea is to monitor hundreds of channels using servers that know exactly what’s on any given channel at a given time. Your iPad app (for, say, Fox’s Glee) contacts SecondScreen through the cloud to know exactly when the show and its ads are airing.

“In my mind, that’s not a great user experience to have to hold up your phone to the TV,” Tapper said. “A TV viewer’s actual experience is a lean-back experience.”

Check out a demo here of TV commercials syncing up with an IPad: Ads include those for Time Warner Cable, Maimonides Medical Center and the DVD of the Arthur remake starring Russell Brand.

Tapper does acknowledge that the SecondScreen concept doesn’t work with time-shifted content: “Our experience with time-shifted content is that people skip ads,” he said.

Another startup, Bluefin Labs, formed by two former scientists MIT Research Lab, is similarly scanning hundreds of satellite-delivered channels to ID the content and ads, but it’s matching up that TV data (some 115,000 individual shows since the start of the year) with social networking conversations. Bluefin is selling the data and related tools to advertisers, agencies and networks.

For more on this topic, check out the Multichannel News webinar I moderated this week on the topic, “The Ultimate TV Companion” with Comcast Interactive Media’s Tom Blaxland, Current Analysis’ Yoav Schreiber and Motorola’s Neeraj Sinha (register to access the archive here).


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