NBCUniversal's USA Network wants to gin up more social chatter about its original programming, teaming with startup Yap.TV to create an app for smartphones and tablets to let viewers follow real-time comments and serve up additional content.
The free app, available initially only for Apple's iPad and iPhone devices, will soft-launch in early November with a more concerted launch planned for the first quarter of 2012, USA vice president of digital Jesse Redniss said.
The new USA app will leverage its Character Chatter website, which aggregates comments from Twitter and Facebook about the network's shows. Users also will be able to access a dynamic programming guide, which syncs up with what's on USA at the time, as well as view exclusive content, invite friends to download the app and chat with other Yap.TV users.
"Over the course of a year or so, we've been really focusing in on the social television space, looking to really activate our existing fan base to bring them into a community viewing environment," Redniss said.
The level of social buzz about a TV show correlates with its ratings, according to a recent study by Nielsen and NM Incite. The study found, for example, that an increase in social-media activity of 9% in the weeks prior to a show's premiere corresponds to a 1% increase in ratings among viewers 18-34.
USA, for its part, over this past summer found that the success of its shows mapped with the activity on Character Chatter. "We literally saw a great hockey stick," Redniss said. The site garnered 300,000 unique users from June to August.
Next month, the network will premiere new seasons of Burn Notice and Covert Affairs, ahead of five original series set to debut in the first quarter of 2012. "We want to launch it and get it into the hands of fans," Redniss said. There's no single app or website that will be the main way viewers interact over TV shows, he added, and USA will work on multiple social-media fronts.
As for advertising, initially the USA app will not carry any ads but eventually will roll them into the mix. "We want to organically bring [advertisers] into the experience," he said.
The USA app is Yap.TV's first custom-built app; the network plans to launch an Android version by the end of year.
Yap.TV's generic free application provides a personalized guide for TV listings and social interaction. The Los Altos, Calif.-based company's investors include Javelin Venture Partners and Blumberg Capital.