Trending TV: Twitter’s Fast Moves Belie Weak Deal Market For Social TV Startups

TwitterTvsocialTapping into second-screen viewing and related search habits is the new black.

Facebook confirmed Friday it is testing “trending topics” in the news feed after rolling out a hashtags feature, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple and, especially, Twitter have made notable moves in the space.

But, for all of the interest, the fact remains that deal activity is drying up in the social TV startup space. The funding picture is bleak, according to new data from CB Insights claiming investors completed 30% fewer deals in the past 12 months than in the prior period and provided 62% fewer investment dollars, suggesting younger and smaller companies could be struggling to grow independently.

When Apple snapped up second-screen startup in mid-August, the application had been out of business for three months, according to some reports. In a deal estimated in the $1 million-$1.5 million range, as reported by VentureBeat, Apple acquired technology combining social media, reviews and recommendations with TV and video discovery. What brought to Apple was “a very nice service that maps out all the available content both online and on your TV,” the article stated. It just wasn’t operational at the time of purchase. Or, according to TechCrunch, it was in pivot mode.

And then there’s Twitter’s aquisition of Trendrr. Following its purchase of Bluefin Labs, another trending-TV analytics company, Twitter will bring Trendrr product Curatorr into its fold full-time. Already a Twitter-certified product, Curatorr is used by media companies, marketers and display ecosystem partners to tap in to the “real-time aspects of TV and media,” wrote Trendrr CEO Mark Ghuneim in a blog post. Also noted, however, was the company’s plan to phase out new contracts for the product. 

In other words, standalone social TV applications have yet to prove themselves. 

Bluefin’s exit for $90 million “was one of the larger exits we’ve seen in the social TV space with a valuation attached,” commented Anand Sanwal, cofounder & CEO of venture-capital deals database CB Insights, which tracks emerging industries, financing and exit activity within various sectors.  The Trendrr acquisition appears to be a “bulking up” of analytics capabilities around TV features, such as “Twitter ad targeting based on commercials.”

“There was a lot of activity when folks thought a Foursquare for TV [think check-ins] would be a big deal,” Sanwal added. “None of those got traction and so investors are souring on social TV a bit. Twitter’s acquisitions are not traction, but likely just smart moves by Twitter to hire some smart folks and get some solid technology that never gained adoption.”

Funding to social TV’s subcategories, such as “content discovery,” is down across the board, but one area still holds promise: social TV engagement and marketing, Sanwal said.

“These are companies like Kwarter and Mass Relevance that offer solutions to help brands engage with television audiences using social techniques” as opposed to the social TV check-in and alternative social TV discovery apps that will likely wither with Twitter in the game.

“The big [social] ecosystems have a tremendous advantage when it comes to second screen right now because people are in the environment every day,” said Joel Espelien, senior analyst at TDG Research, who added that Facebook and Twitter have the scope to successfully thread social media conversation and real-time media. “It’s difficult for the smaller, pure-play social TV guys to get a lot of traction. People don’t necessarily need a dedicated app or proprietary access to do that. Twitter’s starting to figure out how important TV is to a conversation topic. It’s a pretty important vertical for Twitter because it’s a vertical you can monetize.”

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