February 7 (Bloomberg) -- Last summer, Home Box Office worked with a New York startup called GetGlue on an online campaign to promote the cable network’s vampire series, "True Blood." From late May through June, fans who visited a page that GetGlue created could unlock digital stickers and win real bottles of Tru Blood, a carbonated blood-orange drink that looks not unlike what the characters drink in the show. Fans on the page could also chat with one another about the forthcoming premiere and learn about related programming.
HBO didn’t pay GetGlue for the promotion, but both companies benefited from the more than 1.5 million visits. The GetGlue page for "True Blood" sparked excitement using “swag that’s special to a ‘super fan,’” says Sabrina Caluori, vice president of social media & performance marketing for HBO. And HBO promoted GetGlue to the nearly 10 million fans on the show's Facebook page, driving traffic and boosting credibility for the nascent venture. "The nature of the relationship is to share with fans what you're watching," says 39-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer Alex Iskold. "Networks love that it's essentially free and effective marketing for them."
As more and more individuals chat online about books, movies, video games, and television shows, established players such as Facebook and a handful of technology startups like GetGlue are working on ways to corral their conversations and connect them with advertisers. In September, Facebook introduced a feature that broadcasts what its users are reading, watching, and listening to across the Web. GetGlue goes a step further by creating dedicated pages on which friends and fans can chat about a specific show or book or band, even suggesting related items that could be of interest. (Enjoy "True Blood?" Try the Charlaine Harris books the show is based on -- or an additional HBO series, "Rome.")
Users access GetGlue via its website, its mobile app, or any of the more than 30 major TV network or cable apps and websites that carry GetGlue code. The code allows GetGlue users to "check in" by clicking a button that posts what they are consuming ("I'm watching 'True Blood'" or "I'm reading 'The Help'") in GetGlue and other social networks. GetGlue's interface features a real-time stream of friends' activities, along with separate conversations from the fans of shows that users have checked into. Incentives for checking in include becoming a show's “guru” -- a distinction awarded to users from fellow users for the quality of their comments and replies -- as well as access to exclusive content and autographed paraphernalia from the shows’ stars.
GetGlue gets paid for certain promotions, such as one launched in September with PepsiCo Beverages, in which the drink maker essentially bought advertising space (name and logo) on virtual promotions for the Fox singing competition show, "The X Factor." "We wanted to create a solid integration for the brand in the show in the social world," says Andrea Harrison, Pepsi’s director of digital engagement.
This September, 35-person GetGlue inked its biggest deal yet, enabling DirecTV’s 30 million subscribers to check in to shows and movies they're watching. Iskold says GetGlue's more than 2 million users checked in more than 100 million times in 2011. He plans to hire up to 15 additional employees by 2013 to build new features.
"[GetGlue] really held their ground in the check-in space,” says Elizabeth Shaw, an analyst for Forrester Research. She notes that the availability of new marketing options from other players means GetGlue is “going to start feeling the heat." Still, Iskold -- a software engineer who previously started two tech companies, one of which IBM bought for an undisclosed amount -- expects over $1 million in revenue in 2012. In early January, GetGlue received a $12 million round of venture capital funding, bringing total external investment to $24 million. Iskold says the company is at least 18 months from turning a profit.
Jesse Redniss, senior vice president of digital for USA Networks, began working with GetGlue in 2010. "While we were trying to harness the social conversation leading up to, during, and after our shows, we started seeing that a good portion of those conversations were actually stemming from users who were checked in to GetGlue," says Redniss. "You really take notice of a small, rabid fan base being able to move the needle that much."
When Iskold used $6 million to launch GetGlue in late 2009, he was betting that the kind of enthusiasm people share at the office water cooler would flourish online. "We live in the age of social networking, but I still don't know what TV shows my friends are watching or what books they're reading," says Iskold. "How do we make this really easy to know what your friends are consuming? That was my inspiration for starting GetGlue. [For] literally everyone I meet, there's at least one show, there's at least one book or movie or piece of music they are passionate about," says Iskold.
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