Among the hottest topics in social TV (sTV) are so-called “check-in” services; applications like Miso and GetGlue that allow viewers to use their mobile device to tell friends which TV shows they are watching. For those that have used Foursquare, sTV check-in apps work much the same, but instead of sharing one’s location with friends they share the TV show one is viewing.
From the perspective of the Facebook generation, it is just another way to “show” others what you are up to (another version of what sociologists have long referred to as “staging,” which is at the heart of social networking’s larger appeal). From my perspective, sTV check-in apps are virtually worthless; “metrics” created by crafty entrepreneurs looking to tap into the social media craze and sell off before the rest of the TV world figures out just how useless it is. As well, this very simple function can be provided within the structure of existing social networks and even net-connected TVs without the need for a separate app.
Unfortunately, many TV professionals and the industry press have bought into the hype surrounding sTV check-in. For some, winning weekly check-in ratings is almost as valuable as winning time slot viewership. However, when these viewership metrics do not mesh with sTV check-in numbers, what does that say about the latter’s validity?
Though Nielsen-like TV viewership metrics are far from perfect, they are the industry-recognized standard by which programs are objectively valued and monetized. Social TV check-ins, on the other hand, have no such objective value (except in the mind of their purveyors). To some, sTV check-in metrics are interesting, but there is no way around the fact they represent but a minute number of viewers and even then it is uncertain what this “metric” tells us about these consumers.
Take, for example, last Thursday’s (September 6) MTV’s 2012 Video Music Awards. 2012 viewership was down dramatically from 2011 (from 6.2 in 2011 to 2.8 in 2012 among 18-49s), attracting 6.134 million viewers for the prime-time 8:00 PM show (live+ SD). Yes, it had to compete with night three of the DNC gathering, but given that the VMAs is one of MTV’s largest annual events, a drop of this magnitude was unexpected.
Not surprisingly, the VMAs also topped GetGlue’s social check-in list, but attracted only 49,331 check-ins (a viewership to sTV check-in ratio of 124:1). In other words, less than .8% of VMA viewers checked in with GetGlue. True, GetGlue is not the only social check-in service, but it is one of the largest. Even if we tripled the .8% check-in rate of GetGlue to 2.4% to make up for other sTV check-in services (which is very aggressive), the message is still clear: sTV check-in services have very limited appeal, even among a demographic (the MTV generation) that is in theory disproportionately well disposed toward damn near anything related to social networking.
The message? When it comes to social TV applications, the hype is both deafening and dangerous, as it can prop up apps with little or no value while drowning out apps that may actually resonate with consumers and stand a chance of success.