Social TV platform Starling takes flight at MIPTV

As co-viewing becomes more of a broadcast media reality, a new company is aiming to act as a connector between television shows and their fans.
April 14, 2010

As co-viewing becomes more of a broadcast media reality, a new company is aiming to act as a connector between television shows and their fans. Starling, founded by three executives with deep experience in digital media, is at MIPTV, launching its new social TV platform designed to provide structure to social media conversations and buzz around programming.

The company is led by Kevin Slavin, managing director and co-founder of New York-based cross-media company Area/Code, which he will remain at board level for while focusing on Starling. The exec team is rounded out by CEO Declan Caulfield, a former exec producer with FremantleMedia’s digital division FMX, and director of Americas Kenny Miller, who was most recently creative director, global digital media for MTV Networks.

The platform, according to Caulfield and Miller, will provide fans of programming with a streamlined application through which they can communicate via their social networks of choice about their favorite programs. With co-viewing becoming more and more prevalent – Caulfield says statistics show that 59% of viewers in the U.S. are now online while watching a show while in the UK 90% of people are using their mobile phones while watching TV – and social media reaching huge levels of adoption, the company feels the time is right for Starling to take flight.

‘People are already talking amongst themselves in the audience but there is an issue with how they’re doing it,’ says Caulfield. ‘Most of the conversations that they’re having at the moment are driven around large media, and in particular television. So all those water-cooler moments are happening in real-time.’

The problem, however, is that those conversations are not easily facilitated by either social networks or broadcasters of programming. Popular live TV events in particular can rack up to 60 tweets per second using the show’s hashtag. ‘That’s of no use to anybody – certainly not to anyone who wants to have a conversation,’ says Caulfield. ‘So it demonstrates that people do want to take part and restore the sense of being a fan, being part of the crowd and cheering. But the system is a little bit broken.’

As part of its solution, Starling is allowing, through its Early Access Program, the opportunity for its partners in production, advertising and broadcast to use the platform pre-release. FremantleMedia and JWT have already signed on to test the technology.

‘At the beginning of these new behaviors or introductions of software, you wind up with these very bespoke things that the ‘platinum programmers’ can create and experiment with,’ says Miller, who, in collaboration with Area/Code, helped devise a similar social media TV endeavor with MTV’s Backchannel, in which viewers could engage in a ‘competitive chat game’ while watching MTV programming. ‘But most programmers around the world need some off the shelf tools that will let them do this for all of their programming in a much more turnkey fashion. So instead of having to adapt a complicated platform that comes out of Silicon Valley and that you need to have a PhD in computer science in order to use, we’re going to model this from a television programmer’s perspective.’

The Starling technology allows the user at home to interact with their friends and programming via mobile handsets, laptops or tablets such as the iPad. Users can comment on programs in real-time, and vote on other users’ comments and opinions by tapping on their screens. Popular comments gain points, adding a gaming component to the experience.

Broadcasters and producers, in turn, will have access to integration boxes for their control rooms and switchers, which will provide them with a menu of incoming comments that they can select or deselect to choose comments that will or won’t appear within the content.

‘It’s crowd-sourced sentiment,’ says Caulfield. ‘It rises up and is then taken out and placed on air, with a digital trail. Now a broadcaster can truly represent its audience.’

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About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.