EXCLUSIVE: Disney, Nielsen team on iPad app

ABC series 'My Generation' gets synchronized content

Disney and Nielsen have joined forces to launch a free iPad app that could turn the device into a companion screen for content and social media synchronized to a TV program.

The My Generation Sync iPad App will be available in the app store at midnight, a week ahead of the premiere of the new ABC series it will supplement, "My Generation."

Users who download the app can multi-task between the TV experience and the iPad, which will display polls, trivia and other content timed to be relevant to what is transpiring in the "Generation" storylines.

The app will also have a social-media element, enabling sharing, posting to Twitter, as well as "liking" to Facebook, though actual feeds won't be integrated until later iterations of the app.

While the episode is intended for broadcast to bring together as many viewers as possible, the app can also be utilized for those watching a DVR recording.

What Nielsen brings to the table is audio watermarking embedded in the broadcast that signals the iPhone through its microphone to trigger timed content. While the technology has always been used by Nielsen strictly for measurement purposes, a new mobile-friendly upgrade opened a new ancillary business for the company and Digimarc Corp., which is teaming up with Nielsen on what it has dubbed its Media Sync Platform.

Innovative as it sounds, the Generation app is just the latest in a long string of attempts by many companies in and outside of the TV industry for a breakthrough in interactive television, which allows viewers to turn a program into more than a passive experience. ABC itself was a prominent player in the space back in 2000 with its Web-based Enhanced TV platform.

"The big thing that's changed to make a go at this again is more and more people are multitasking in the living room environment," said Albert Cheng, executive vp digital media at Disney ABC Television Group. "This was another opportunity to take a crack at this again."

Synchronized TV is usually thought of as a "two-screen" experience, more commonly with laptops or mobile phones, though the advent of so-called widgets on Internet-connected TVs may change that.

The hope is that increasing viewer engagement with TV shows will translate to the same dynamic with advertising, creating more revenue opportunities for the networks.

However, the Disney/Nielsen app is not launching with any advertiser participation, though that could be incorporated down the road. Cheng characterized this as an experiment that will likely be revised many times in the future with feedback from focus groups and other research.

"We think it's very early days, this is the first application from us," said Sid Gorham, executive vp strategy and business development at Nielsen. "There's lots of learning ahead."

While the commingling of audio watermarking, synchronized content and social media is new, it is just one facet of a burgeoning category known as "social TV" that seeks to marry the "check-in" concept popularized by Foursquare with popular entertainment. Most market entrants, which includes TV.com's Relay, Comcast's Tunerfish, Miso and GetGlue, are focused on connecting users around TV programming, supplementary content is seen as a logical extension where Disney may have beaten all to the punch.

Disney has been an aggressive developer for iPad, which is no surprised given Apple CEO Steve Jobs is the company's largest shareholder. Disney ABC Television Group was the inaugural content partner for full TV episodes via iTunes App, which has been downloaded over 900,000 times. Other Disney-related apps come from ABC Family and ABC News.

"My Generation," an hourlong ensemble drama premiering Sept. 23, was selected for the app because Disney though its target audience would overlap with the iPad user base. Disney was also limited to taped programming given live TV presents additional challenges for timing content.

Nielsen expects to have more network clients using Media Sync as early next year.