Starling Unveils New Social TV Platform for Mobiles, Tablet Computers and the Web

At the MIPTV show in Cannes, Tuesday, a start-up called Starling unveiled a new, two-screen social TV platform. Starling is the brainchild of Kevin Slavin, founder of area/code, a New York-based company that specializes in what it calls "Big Games" (note: according to area/code, Big Games are "games that spill out over the edges of our screens and devices to blend with the real world in new and surprising ways," and that "are building a future in which socially aware networks, smart objects, location sensing and mobile computing open up new ways for people to play"--more information on the concept is available here). area/code also developed "Backchannel," a social TV service for the MTV reality series, "The Hills."

Designed for use on mobile devices, tablet computers and the Web, the new platform, which is slated to launch in September and to be offered free of charge, allows viewers to chat, play and otherwise interact with one another while watching a TV show. "Viewers will be able to use Starling to scan comments from friends and other fans of the show, in sync with the TV broadcast," Slavin, who serves as Starling's president, said in a prepared statement. "Watching a show becomes a social activity, where the audience becomes aware of the audience. It's like a real-time watercooler."

According to Starling, the new platform enhances the social TV experience by sorting and highlighting popular comments and comments from the viewer's friends. Viewers on touchscreen devices can tap the screen to vote for--or "star"--a comment, and viewers whose comments garner multiple votes are awarded points in a global scoring system, the company says. According to the company, popular comments could also be incorporated into a show. (Note: the Backchannel service also allowed viewers to rate one another's comments, with the most popular comments then being incorporated into re-runs of "The Hills".)

Starling claims that the platform offers benefits to content owners and advertisers, as well as to viewers: it allows production companies and broadcasters to retain viewers, the company claims, by "deepening" those viewers' relationships to a TV show, turning them into participants, and encouraging them to discover new TV shows through their social network. And, for sponsors and advertisers, Starling says,. the platform delivers a "new layer for broadcast," creating a new channel for companies looking for turnkey solutions for effectively using social media. "Within social media, the conversations around broadcast entertainment are some of the loudest and broadest we experience," Slavin continued. "Starling provides a structure for these conversations. Following years of development in network television, we can now offer everyone the opportunity to interact and comment in real time. This is good news for everyone, especially the audience."

Starling has also announced an Early Access Program, which offers companies the opportunity to use its social TV platform before the platform is officially released. The company has convinced two very high-profile partners to join the program: entertainment company, FremantleMedia, and advertising agency, JWT (part of the WPP Group). "Starling's Early Access Program provides us with the opportunity to explore new channels to connect with our audience, which extends Fremantle's legacy in doing so for many years," FremantleMedia COO, Gary Carter, said in a prepared statement. "Emergent behaviors in social media are building a new and connected audience, and we look forward to the ways that Starling could help Fremantle to amplify, augment and engage this trend." Added JWT's director of emerging media, David Rosenberg: "We are very excited to be a part of Starling's Early Access Program. Our clients already know that social media plays a crucial role in their communications and they are quickly becoming aware of its potent relationship with broadcast media. Having the ability to build a turn-key solution that creates a bridge between TV and social media while finding dynamic ways to weave in brand experiences is of paramount importance."

According to Starling, its senior management team includes prominent executives from the game development, advertising, broadcast and production spaces. The company's CEO is Declan Caulfield and its director of Americas is Kenny Miller.

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