Changemakers: Social TV platform Starling

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.
May 1, 2010

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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, came to MIPTV to launch 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, for which he will remain at board level 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. Co-viewing is becoming more and more prevalent – Caulfield says recent statistics show that 59% of viewers in the U.S. are now online while watching a show, and in the UK close to 90% of people aged 25-34 indulge in media stacking (using multiple media at the same time). Combining this with the huge levels of adoption for social media, 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 TV. 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, which Miller says will provide programmers with ‘off the shelf tools that will let them use this for all of their programming in a much more turnkey fashion.’

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 provide them with a menu of incoming comments that they can select or deselect to 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
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.