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Broadcasters Connect With ConnecTV

Ten broadcast groups covering 76 million American homes are partnering with ConnecTV to launch a free second screen application in early 2012 that will offer viewers additional content and social media features tied to live TV.

As part of the agreement, a number of the broadcasters have also made an undisclosed investment in the Silicon Valley start-up, ConnecTV.

Many national broadcasters, cable channels and programs have launched second screen apps as a way of enhancing live TV viewing and to capitalize on the growing usage of mobile devices and social media.

But the deal between the broadcast groups and ConnecTV marks the largest attempt by local broadcasters -- a number of whom compete with each other -- to work together on social media and second screen applications.

The ConnecTV platform automatically synchronizes with whatever channel a viewer is watching. Users who have signed up for the service at its web site or have downloaded an app for smart phones or tablets can interact with others who are watching the same show and access a wide array of related content.

If a viewer is watching a local newscast, for example, the application might show related news stories, which the user could access or share with friends.

Alternatively, the application might offer polls or stats related to a sporting event. Local ads and promotions are also synched to the programs being viewed, opening up new revenue opportunities the companies hope.

The ten television broadcast groups involved in the ConnecTV partnership are active in 45 of the top 50 markets and own 201 stations in markets covering 76 million U.S. households.

Those groups include Barrington Broadcasting Group as well as the nine broadcast groups that make up the Pearl Group (Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.)

Speaking on behalf of the Pearl Group, Alan Frank, president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations noted that a growing portion of their audiences are active social media users and that many of them were using laptops, smartphones and tablets while watching TV.

"There is more TV viewing than ever but people are doing it differently," said Frank. He cited a 2010 Nielsen study concluding that two thirds of people aged 18 to 54 reported watching TV while they accessed the web and that 70% of tablet owners used their tablets while watching TV.

The Pearl Group was originally set up by nine broadcast groups to coordinate the launch of mobile DTV services but the growing importance of social media and the increasingly widespread usage of tablets, smart phones and laptops to access video, convinced members to explore way that they might be able to capitalize on those trends.

"We kicked the tires on the products of a number of companies but were blown away" with ConnecTV's product, Frank explained. "It provides us with a very important opportunity to make our content more social and enhance our programming for viewers."

All the broadcast partners plan to integrate and synchronize their programming within ConnecTV and promote the new service both on-air and on-line.

As part of the commercial agreement, the broadcasters will have local advertising inventory appear within ConnecTV.

ConnecTV co-founder Ian Aaron noted that the most successful social media efforts have occurred on a local level.

"Today our platform works across 253 different channels, both national broadcasters and cable networks," notes Aaron. "With this partnership we are lighting up the local markets."

As a result of the agreement, broadcasters are also hoping to tap into new local ad revenue and to strengthen their promotional efforts.

"We see this opening up a number of opportunities to provide local business with ways of being even more impactful," Frank noted.

The ConnecTV platform also makes recommendations based on a person's viewing, which could be helpful in promoting programming.

ConnecTV currently is available only in an "invitation only" sneak preview and will go public on early 2012.

Frank expects that broadcasters will first roll out ConnecTV services in the larger markets and that they will add more station groups to the effort in upcoming months.

The agreement marks a notable expansion of the cooperation between broadcasters involved in the Pearl Group.

"We will keep looking and see what interests us," Frank noted. "If opportunities come up that fit in well with what we do, we will explore it."

But he also stressed that Pearl had no formal agenda to expand their existing cooperation to other ventures and that this wasn't simply a Pearl Group initiative. "We expect many others to join," he said.