Friday 20 January 2012

Does Zeebox flop sound early death of Social TV?

News this week that Zeebox has received a lukewarm response from users might announce the stillbirth of Social TV.

Zeebox ran a trial with E4 show Desperate Scousewives but found that only 100 Twitter updates were made via the service out of 80,000 posted during the series, despite promotion and close collaboration between the program and the app.

The app is just one of many in the Social TV landscape, dominated by fast-built American offerings such as and a host of others including Clicker, which was acquired by CBS Interactive in March 2011.

Zeebox was founded by ex-iPlayer CTO Anthony Rose and former EMI board director Ernesto Schmitt with $7 million of seed funding. It is perhaps most similar to GetGlue, which started off life as a service to show you who's visiting what on the web but refocussed its business on social check-ins and has partnered with a whole host of channels, including the UK's Channel 4, in 2011.

Last year, 31,000 people checked in to the Oscars on GetGlue. While the figure is supposed to demonstrate traction, it's a tiny percentage of the people who watched the Oscars. How can such small user numbers ever generate significant revenue for the services?

So is Social TV dead?

Perhaps that's the wrong question. TV has always been social. From its origins as a box in the living room to the present day, TV has generated conversations between its viewers. And it seems the predominant app today for interaction in real time is Twitter.

The question then arises, is there any need for a conversation platform that is dedicated to TV? or even a Twitter app for it, a Tweetdeck for TV?

BSkyB thinks so. Murdoch's business acquired a ten percent stake in Zeebox not two weeks ago for an undisclosed multi-million pound sum, according to the FT. It transpires part of its intention is to sell advertise alongside BBC programming in the Zeebox app on the companion screen, be it smartphone or tablet.

For that to work, scale is required. It doesn't cost much to buy eyeballs - no one has used the term since 1999 - but what's required is engagement - can we say stickiness and get that 90s feeling again? - for users to keep returning and advertisers spending. Is a Twitter app, albeit with some bells and a couple of whistles, sufficient to do that?

Wait and see.

In the meantime, a few million pounds is a small punt for the Murdoch empire that could result in substantial returns if Zeebox takes off.