i.TV Grabs GetGlue: Can Two Second Screens Add Up To One?

The once-promising second-screen space appears to be lumbering along in the shadow of Twitter these days. As the micro-blog goes on the IPO blog today, entertainment guide/second-screen provider i.TV announced that it had acquired the entertainment check-in service GetGlue.

It came as no surprise that GetGlue was sold, since it had been involved recently in an aborted attempt to merge with Viggle. The i.TV buyout may be a more sensible merger of complementary services and audiences in the end. i.TV offers a pretty popular (who really knows with these things?) companion app that gives the media-holic a nice cross-view of available content on TV and the on-demand services. There are alerts for upcoming shows, etc. It also provide services for apps from Nintendo (Wii U) and second-screen and entertainment guides for AOL, HuffPo, and Entertainment Weekly.

GetGlue adds its own coterie of fans who are devoted enough to check in around some entertainments. The company claims 4.5 million registered users, although a report in Ad Age suggests the total is closer to 1.2 million monthly active users. GetGlue also broadcasts people's check-ins via the social nets and so claims one billion social impressions to 100 million Facebook and Twitter users.   

Consider that this just the first of many second-screen marriages and/or disappearances as everyone scrambles to build convincing scale against the Twitter second-screen juggernaut. A number of second-screen apps like Yahoo's IntoNow, Zeebox and even the cable channel and show-specific second-screen apps have come up against a hard reality of dual-screen dynamics. It turns out that people don't want to have to manage their tablets and smartphones while watching a TV show. They just want to interact on a simple level when they want to interact. Twitter is good for that. In fact, I think most of us who have played around with the more robust second-screen apps over the years have found that the Twitter feed is the central attraction anyway.

All of these other third parties will have to make a case for scale against Twitter. There may be some slice of TV watchers who do enjoy more feature-rich experiences on a second screen, but we just haven't seen it catch on. And certainly no provider seems to have broken through to aggregate that niche into scale.

The directory experience or the guide may be a more promising use of the second screen, but that arena is already very cluttered. Beyond i.TV, there is NextGuide, Fanhattan, and a new one called Jinni launching this week, to name a few. And then there are the beefed up guides from the MSOs, especially Comcast Xfinity and Dish -- both of which include remote live streams of the TV on devices.

So how many apps will a TV viewer want to consult just to find out what is on? Do consumers really appreciate all of the cute variations to discover and the recommendations these service have under the hood? Didn't we wait for a decade for content recommendation platforms that were driven by behavioral or social data to come save us from media clutter? I am not sure we ever really found them.

When it comes to entertainment discovery online, we did see powerful portals emerge like Yahoo, Rotten Tomatoes, Gamespot, IGN, and where entertainment media buyers could pour huge amounts of high-CPM spend trying to get attention in those tight release windows among fun-seekers. Whether that market moves to devices in the living room itself -- and does so around a manageable cluster of top apps -- remains to be seen.

Personally, I this this is a battle that my MSO will lose for one very important reason -- they own the remote control. Scoping the TV grid for what is on is more fluid and satisfying when I know I can tap the cell and have it appear on the TV. Even as someone whose job it is to try all these third-party apps, I find myself returning to the Xfinity or DISH apps that also allow me to scope out the old movies playing at 3 a.m. I can tap to record later.

On the down side, these cable and satellite providers are the last ones that will want to partner with the companies providing all the other stuff to the monitor -- Netflix, Xbox/PS3, Amazon, etc. MSOs are not going to be eager to invite people to switch inputs. The third-party apps for the time being will deliver more breadth of discovery.

We still have a lot of second-screen efforts that are struggling to add up to one cross-screen experience. 

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