Orange gives social TV fresh spin

In July 2011 Orange France launched TVcheck – a social media application designed to take advantage of the growing appetite for social networking while watching TV.
Although not a new concept, Orange believes it is able to differentiate from existing competition by using visual detection technology to simplify how users check into the programs they are watching. Orange is initially relying on advertising to monetize the application in its current form – but there is a bigger strategy here. The way we consume TV and other forms of entertainment is changing, and social media will play an increasing important role in that change.
Orange believes that to understand how future business models will work, it needs to be intimately involved, rather than watching from the sidelines, so that it can better understand how its customer’s needs are changing, as well as test its own new ideas and concepts. A crucial point about developing social media systems is that they have to be developed in a live environment; nobody can second guess the way social synapses grow and connect. TVcheck is an initial step, and potentially one of many, in this direction.
TVcheck is a social application that enables users to find out what their friends are watching on the TV, write comments in real time, and recommend programs, while taking part in a new social gaming experience.
Unlike similar applications such as GetGlue, TVcheck is focused purely on the TV, which fits with Orange’s wider content strategy. Orange’s solution also has the advantage of being able to automatically recognize content on particular channels, which the company hopes will be one way of differentiating the application over the specialists.
As is standard with such apps, users gain virtual rewards based on activity levels, which in some cases can turn into real prizes or benefits. From the pay-TV operator point of view, this can, in turn, provide a much more detailed picture of audience behavior, on an individual rather than household level, which can be used for targeted marketing.
Part of a wider strategy
Like all telcos, Orange is looking at how to grow its business going forward. With that aim in mind it established an internal team (Digital Innovation & Communications) headed up by Patrice Slupowski, to explore and innovate around three key areas that the company has identified as potential future growth areas: content; audience and advertisement; [and] healthcare.
TVcheck is one of the applications to come out of the audience and advertising innovation stream, and is designed to take advantage of the growing trend of using a companion device for social networking around TV content. According to Ovum’s latest consumer insights data (August 2011), 33% of French people with access to broadband use a companion device on a regular basis while watching TV. Seventy percent of these are using the devices for social networking, and 30% are networking about the TV program they are watching.
By tapping into this growing trend Orange hopes to meet an immediate objective of the Digital Innovation & Communications team by generating new revenues through advertisement deals. However, Orange is fully aware that the TV experience is changing, and if it wishes to continue to be a key player in that area it must make sure it is part of that change.
TVcheck therefore is part of a wider strategy to allow Orange to continue to innovate around the TV and to explore new business models as they emerge.
Visual detection
TVcheck is not a unique proposition in the market. Specialist players such as GetGlue already exist and already have reasonable and growing market presence and brand awareness. Orange believes it can still differentiate from such players through its TV recognition software. With competitor applications users have to search for, and physically check into, a program they are currently watching. Orange’s solution is able automatically to select the program simply by the user pointing the camera of their smartphone or tablet at the TV, thus simplifying the process for the user. Orange hopes that this simplification is enough to enhance the overall experience and differentiate its product.
In Ovum’s opinion it is likely to take more than this to allow Orange to make an impact, but it is clear that with Orange’s superior R&D budget it could carve a position for itself if it is able to innovate quickly enough and find the right go-to-market strategy.
Using the content detection technology to physically tie, in both time and location, the application and therefore the user into the content on the TV is also important from a content producer/marketer point of view. This capability shows that the user is not only in front of the TV screen, but also provides more accurate data on the individual’s, rather than household’s, viewing habits. Such information is extremely valuable to advertisers looking to target specific groups of consumers.
Orange’s detection software works by matching the content currently being shown on the TV to the known TV schedule. Currently it is limited to the 19 French digital-terrestrial channels, but assuming the user is watching one of these channels, the software only takes between two and five seconds to then recognize the program. Traditional search and select options are available if the user is watching a program that is not recognized by the detection software.
On the face of it TVcheck is a fairly simple application, although with some advanced content recognition software that starts to physically link the content on the TV screen to social networking activity on the second screen. However, social networking is set to become an increasingly important part of the TV experience as we move to a world where who we choose to watch the TV with is no longer limited to physical proximity.
For example, Orange can see this type of technology being used to not only inform others of what we are watching, but to then allow us to invite other people into that video session even if they are not an active subscriber to that content – for a small fee of course. Although just one example, it is easy to see how such solutions could start to be used to break down existing content channels, and thus open up new business opportunities.
As the media world continues its path towards a truly online world, traditional models and walls will increasingly break down. For many players this poses issues and threats to traditional revenue lines, but for the most innovative it also creates new opportunities. Orange is looking to be one of those innovative players, and although TVcheck is hardly ground-breaking in its own right, it is just one small part of Orange’s overall strategy and it will be interesting to see what the company’s next steps are in its aim to generate new revenues in the content and audience areas.