Bluefin Labs and SocialGuide Push Competing Technology to Make Social Data Useful to TV Networks and Advertisers

It is not even Thanksgiving and it has already been a busy November for Bluefin Labs, a Cambridge, MA-based provider of analytics gleaned from the wealth of comments in the social sphere about television shows. Bluefin Labs, backed by Acacia Woods Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, and others, was among the startups presenting their ideas to judges during the ad:tech New York digital marketing conference, which ran through Nov. 10.

Bluefin Labs gathers data based on comments shared publicly via social media about television shows. In addition to the number of tweets and status updates that mention shows, the three-year-old company collects anonymous demographic information about the people who make the comments. Bluefin Labs and others such as SocialGuide in Brooklyn are packaging that data for advertisers and television networks to use.

Bluefin Labs’s Jack Flanagan, vice president of sales, gave the winning pitch at ad:tech in the social media category, besting native New York startups Murmur, Taykey, and Percolate. This follows Deb Roy, CEO and co-founder of Bluefin Labs, introducing his company to the city at the NY Tech Meetup on Nov. 2.

But as Bluefin Labs heads home in victory, SocialGuide—which raised $1.5 million in April from angel investors—is busy preparing a new data platform with a similar flavor.

SocialGuide, who did not present at the conference, already offers a free mobile app and Web dashboard for TV fans that ranks television shows by the buzz they generate in social media. SocialGuide TV offers a snapshot of the discussions stirred by the shows. Sean Casey, CEO and founder of SocialGuide, says his company is developing a platform that will collect detailed demographic information about viewers, which ad agencies and television networks will be able to use to gauge audience reactions and refine marketing strategies. “SocialGuide Intelligence will be released in Beta in December of 2011,” he says.

As television networks and advertisers look for more ways to leverage viewers’ interests, SocialGuide and Bluefin Labs are out to make data from the social space more meaningful. Bluefin Labs’s Flanagan said during his presentation at ad:tech that while television often inspires conversations, broadcasters and advertisers have not been in on that water cooler chatter. “There’s been a lack of measurement for the better part of 60 years, pretty much until today,” he said.

Flanagan said Bluefin Labs gathers live information on shows and advertisements from a satellite feed. The company overlays that information with the television programming guide provided by the Tribune Media Services. Combined with feeds from Twitter, publicly available Facebook updates, and blogs, 3 billion comments per month flow through Bluefin Labs’s system, he said.

Flanagan spoke about Bluefin Labs at the ad:tech New York conference.

TV viewers readily share their thoughts on shows they are watching, Flanagan said, especially celebrity gossip. “With the MTV [Video Music Awards], people were talking about Beyoncé’s baby bump at a rate of about 9,000 tweets per second,” he said. Bluefin Labs’s Signals platform is a social analytics technology that collects data on 8,000 shows from 200 television networks that is paired with information on comments from the audience. The technology was developed over 10 years at MIT.

SocialGuide also uses data from Tribune Media Services, in addition to processing comments from such sources as Facebook and Twitter. “We’ve created an intelligent social recognition system that we started working on over three years ago,” Casey says. His company’s platform has captured some 170 million social comments on shows that run on more than 190 networks. Casey says SocialGuide expects to cover shows from more than 200 networks by year’s end.

SocialGuide may not have the vast influx of comments that Bluefin Labs boasts, but the company is in Beta development on a platform to track social comments on theatrical movies, Casey says. The movie-oriented version is being designed to weigh when and how often films are commented on, as well as the number of theatres that screened them. Though he has yet to enter talks with movie studios, Casey believes he’ll be able to prove his system is more practical than hiring staff to monitor social activity. “We’re interested to see the correlation between [social] buzz and box office,” Casey says.

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