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Station groups back ConnecTV

Is local the killer app for social TV?

A broad consortium of TV station groups have banded together for what may be the most ambitious effort yet to establish a dominant brand in the sprawling social-TV space.

Ten groups representing more than 200 stations affiliated with the broadcasters have linked up with third-party developer ConnecTV to launch a second-screen experience bringing together consumers and companion content for Web browsers and tablet apps operating on both iOs and Android systems. Early next year, ConnecTV will begin to roll out across the bigger markets.

ConnecTV joins a crowded field of software applications aimed at commandeering the precious real estate on laptops and wireless devices used while people watch TV. But the participation of stations puts a new twist on social-TV solutions, making local television the point of entry in a category that has been a free-for-all in the early going.

ConnecTV co-founder Ian Aaron drew a comparison to GroupOn in describing the appeal of his venture’s approach. “We think where we drive traction is by really personalizing this at the local level,” he said.

Participating station groups include Barrington Broadcasting Group, Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, Media General, Meredith Corp., Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media.

All together, they amount to 76 million households. More station groups are expected to join the effort.

The stations will sell ads in ConnecTV and promote the service on-air. Some of the stations are also investors in ConnecTV, but the company didn’t specify which ones or how much they have invested.

ConnecTV can surround hundreds of channels — whether programming is local or national across broadcasting or cable networks — with synchronized content related to what’s onscreen. In addition, ConnecTV has a social-media component that brings together viewers with either other viewers in their community or a grouping of their own choosing.

There have been plenty of studies confirming the ubiquity in the living room of devices ranging from iPads to laptops. New research from Futuresource Consulting out last week found that at least half of viewers surveyed in U.S., U.K., France and Germany are using secondary devices while watching TV.

The opportunity has attracted no shortage of corporate attention. But the business of providing content on second screens as an adjunct to the primary TV experience is so wide open that ConnecTV stands out for no other reason than its broad footprint.

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook may be best situated to capitalize on this phenomenon, though they haven’t done much more than simply present themselves as the place for conversations simultaneous to the TV. For TV companions that combine social media with a content experience, there have been channel-oriented websites and apps from the likes of Bravo and MTV as well as show-specific approaches from Fox (“Terra Nova”) and ABC (“Grey’s Anatomy”).

And then there are third-party developers like Umami, which recently launched its synchronized-content app with the intent of becoming a one-stop shop no matter what show or channel drives your interest. It has deals with a growing list of content partners from National Geographic Channel to “Entertainment Tonight.”

If that’s not enough, this bewildering array of strategies could eventually see still more applications from parties as varied as production companies, advertisers and consumer-electronics manufacturers.

Roger Keating, senior VP of digital at Hearst, sees ConnecTV as a reversal of the usual trickle-down dynamic that has TV stations adopting technology that gets pushed down from the TV networks or MSOs.

“When new platforms emerge, they tend to start purely from a national standpoint and eventually they say, ‘Let’s open a local door to this,'” Keating said. “Now we have local broadcasters putting their weight behind this platform and telling our viewers about it.”

While ConnecTV is currently moving forward without the participation of parties beyond the stations business, conversations have been held outside the sector to eventually bring them aboard.

ConnecTV synchronizes content by empowering devices to listen for audio fingerprints embedded in the TV signal.

Most of the aforementioned stations have already thrown in their lot with another joint service: Dyle, a mobile TV service using over-the-air spectrum expected to launch next year. Dyle and ConnecTV will remain separate entities.

ConnecTV has been operating in stealth mode for the past two years. The company’s principals include Aaron, former president of Gemstar-TV Guide, and former TiVo execs Alan Moskowitz and Stacy Jolna.

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