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ConnecTV Reboots Social TV App, Stealing Page from Twitter’s Vine

Broadcaster-backed startup pivots strategy, launching app that lets users share 6-second clips from 400 TV channels

Ian Aaron, CEO of social TV app startup ConnecTV, has watched numerous “second screen” players fail to gain traction over the last three years — including, he concedes, ConnecTV itself.

Now, broadcaster-backed ConnecTV is releasing an overhauled version of its app refocused on a simple idea: It lets TV fans share actual snippets of programming with their friends and followers. With the new app, users can “clip” 6-second video segments from among 400 live TV channels; comment on them; and share them on Twitter and Facebook, via a link in email, or within the app.

Previously, the ConnecTV app offered a way for users to track conversations about favorite TV shows — a feature that didn’t move the needle. Aaron said the rapid growth of Twitter’s Vine 6-second video service and the video features of Facebook’s Instagram (which caps clips at a comparatively generous 15 seconds) led ConnecTV to shift course to be video-centric.

“We haven’t seen the engagement we were looking for with second screen apps, while social video like Vine and Instagram are big and growing,” he said. ”We are coming out with what we think is ‘the’ app for social TV.”

Ads that appear in the app can be synchronized with what’s airing on TV. ConnecTV has a half-dozen charter ad deals with TV networks and brands, which Aaron declined to identify. “We want you to watch live and engage live,” Aaron said. “We want to be  a promotion and marketing platform for the studios and networks.”

To fall under fair-use provisions of the copyright code, ConnecTV — like Vine — limits clips to 6 seconds and requires users to add their own comment on top of the clip, Aaron said. The ConnecTV app for Apple iOS devices is available now and an Android version is slated to be available by the end of the year, according to the company.

ConnecTV’s app uses audio fingerprinting to validate that someone is in front of a TV and tuned to a given channel (another requirement stipulated by the lawyers). After a user presses “clip,” the app pulls up the last 2 minutes that have aired on the channel and the user selects the 6-second slice they want to share.

With the ability to clip and share short TV segments, the new ConnecTV app stands to function sort of like a user-generated version of Twitter Amplify, the social company’s program to let TV networks distribute ad-supported video tweets that promote live tune-in. But compared with Twitter’s initiative, the ConnecTV app is more powerful because it’s being produced by people who are fans of the shows, according to Aaron.

Consumers are already using Vine and other apps to share TV clips, according to Aaron. ConnecTV’s new app makes sharing TV moments easier for users — and monetizeable for content owners, he argued. The app tags clips with a network’s logo and includes related info such as program description and air date and time.

ConnecTV’s investors include 10 broadcast stations groups: Barrington Broadcasting, Belo, Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, Media General, Meredith, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media. The video-sharing features are rolling out nationally and for local TV programming in New York and San Francisco initially, followed by the top 50 U.S. markets.

“Our broadcast partners are the local TV guys,” said Aaron, who among other previous gigs was president of Gemstar-TV Guide International’s Television Group.

The startup also is working with consumer-electronics manufacturers and pay TV providers on new features that would let users program their DVRs or tune live to a show from any clip.

Most second-screen apps, according to Aaron, are “putting 10 pounds of stuff in a one-pound box. … They’re more distracting than engaging.” Other third-party apps targeting TV viewers include GetGlue, IntoNow, Peel, NextGuide, Shazam, Viggle and Zeebox.

Founded in 2010, the Emeryville, Calif.-based startup has 22 employees. The app has about 980,000 registered users, but this version of ConnecTV marks the official “commercial launch,” according to Aaron. He claims everything the company has done leading up to now has been testing to see what resonates with users.

Before, Aaron said, “we didn’t promote it because we weren’t happy with the engagement.”

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