Will TV viewers get hooked on their next favorite primetime series based on the aggregated comments of millions of Internet users?
SocialGuide founder and CEO Sean Casey is counting on it. In the last four months, his Brooklyn, N.Y.-based startup has combed through the comments of around 14 million people on Twitter and Facebook, through those sites' public interfaces, to create a live look at which shows are drawing the most buzz -- at least among the chronically Net-connected set.
All told SocialGuide, which launched in early April, has followed some 90 million social TV comments since Jan. 1, tracking broadcast networks and more than 150 of the most popular cable networks, according to Casey.
Based on that data, SocialGuide presents a real-time ranking of the relative "social engagement" for shows currently on-air and coming up in the next two hours. The site tracks more than 4,500 unique programs that aired on TV across the U.S. in a given week.
"Set-top guides haven't changed at all over the last several years. The channels are in the numerical order the cable company set," Casey said. SocialGuide ranks channels based on popularity: "We've done a good job of finding out what people are watching and what they're talking about."
Most of SocialGuide's data comes from Twitter, and there's some question of how representative the site is of the general population -- only 8% of online users in the U.S. actively tweet, according to a December 2010 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Casey, though, argued that social-media users are younger and more tech-savvy, which are the exact demographic TV networks are trying to reach.
In analyzing Twitter and Facebook comments, SocialGuide separates the wheat from the chaff -- for example, determining if a tweet is about, say, the Oprah Winfrey Show as opposed to Oprah the celebrity -- using various parameters, including time of day and different algorithms. The general approach is similar to the one employed by Trendrr, a provider of social measurement data for businesses that tracks Twitter, blogs and other Web sources (which supplies the Multichannel News Buzz Meter weekly ranking).
SocialGuide is geared toward providing a barometer of social activity about live TV and doesn't account for delayed viewing of shows on DVR. Casey, however, argues that the buzz is generated by people commenting in real-time: "If people are having a DVR experience, the chance of them being social about it is much smaller," he said. "The most important commenters are the ones watching it first."
Other TV-oriented social sites for consumers, which let people interact with their friends and track what they're watching, include Miso, GetGlue, Philo and IntoNow, which was acquired earlier this week by Yahoo.
However, Casey pointed out, those all require explicit check-ins from users to indicate what they're watching at any given moment, whereas SocialGuide monitors millions of individual comments independently.
SocialGuide also has licensed TV listings info from Tribune Media Services, to let users select their pay-TV provider to see current listings for their service. Casey said the five-employee company is working to produce SocialGuide apps for the iPhone and Android-based devices in the next few weeks.
How is SocialGuide going to make money? Casey's main target: sponsorships with networks, to create branded experiences on SocialGuide.com and the forthcoming apps. "We're designing social experiences designed to drive live tune-in," he said.
SocialGuide raised $1.5 million in February from individual investors including Alex Zubillaga, former head of digital strategy for Warner Music Group. Casey most recently headed digital products for Kidzbop.com, a social site for kids, and has also worked at iVillage and Comcast.