BET, GetGlue highlight the future of interactive TV apps



As the app industry continues to evolve, one area where app companies are beginning to get truly innovative is in the space between live television and the smartphone. This intersection provides a location for TV viewers to use their phones to interact with the content being broadcast. And though this area is still in its infancy, it's a good bet that additional companies will work to cash in on the opportunities to connect TV broadcasters with viewers and viewers with each other.

Take BET Networks as an example. Its "106 and Park" app, which ties into to the daily countdown television show of the same name, won the Android Best App Ever award in 2011, and continues setting the pace in the second screen experience. 106 and Park, which I touched on in an earlier interview with BET's Brandon Lucas, has been out for over a year, and still employs certain advancements in mobile I've yet to see anywhere else.

For one, the app and TV show are fully integrated. Users have separate incentives to watch the show live as well as simultaneously use the app. The TV show displays a live heat map that uses location-based technology to show which areas are "hot" with users logged onto the app. As a publisher, using location-based technology is a boon for mobile advertisers and understanding your demographic. But the reason that BET's technology here is so smart is that it equally incentivizes its users to log on during its broadcast. Users who are logged on can be randomly selected to be called through the app. So, someone who may be watching the TV show and using the app can be called live on air to win concert tickets or talk to a live celebrity guest.

Lucas told me that incorporating user interaction is an underlying theme with BET Networks.  "When we sit down to think about cool features to bring to any of our platforms, a lot of the time the question that we go back to is 'how we can tie this to helping to create a fame opportunity for our users,'" he explained. And while that strategy may work for BET, each app has a different audience, which will in turn respond differently to various types of incentives.

The second screen experience is tricky to master. GetGlue gets close, with its signature app that rewards users for checking into TV shows and movies they're currently watching. Users can earn physical stickers related to their favorite programs that GetGlue mails to their doorstep. However, an app like this encompasses all types of television content, but it is most successful with live TV. The Academy Awards in February, for one, saw a record 170,000 check-ins.

One thing BET has gotten right is that its apps currently focus only on live TV, which boosts higher interaction rates with users. The company's other app, released earlier this summer, ties in with the BET Awards, the company's largest annual awards show. An app like BET Awards builds excitement leading up to the event, engaging the user with incentived voting--the user plays games and earns votes for a given celebrity.

The innovations from BET Networks aren't likely to stop with the latest iterations of its apps. When I spoke with Lucas earlier this month he said that users could expect a new Hip Hop Awards app to debut in September and additional apps in the first few months of next year.--Sandhya

P.S. If you haven't already, read our On the Hot Seat interview with BET's vice president and general manager of mobile, Brandon Lucas.