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Sidecastr's iPad app displays tweets related to TV shows — even if you're not watching live

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 6, 2012 11:05 AM

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An iPad app from a Weston startup, Sidecastr, wants to make it easy for you to peruse snarky, insightful, and funny tweets about your favorite TV shows — even if you're not watching the broadcasts live. Founder Steve Brand, right, is out making the rounds trying to raise money for the startup, which he has been working on since 2009.

Here's how it works: Sidecastr captures the tweets about a particular TV show as it is being broadcast, and filters them in two ways. The first is trying to eliminate redundant tweets, spammy tweets, or tweets that aren't really of interest to most viewers: "Drinking a beer and watching 'Modern Family,'" for instance. The second filter involves a human curator — Brand refers to them as "Social DJs" — who flags and categorizes the best tweets. A catty comment about a starlet's dress on an awards show would be categorized under "Fashion," for instance. (Social DJs are paid for their time, Brand says, but aren't employees of the company.)

Users of the app can opt to either watch a show live, or they can watch it later from a digital video recorder; cable on-demand service; a site like Hulu; or a DVD. The Sidecastr app tunes into the audio of what you're watching, figures out where you are in the show — even if you've paused it or jumped ahead — and plays the relevant tweets. (I found that it took 10 or 20 seconds to figure out what show I was watching and start displaying tweets.) The app's design is nifty: each tweet is accompanied by a screenshot of the particular moment in the show that it is commenting on, and tweets scroll by horizontally. You can filter out particular categories of tweets (like those fashion-related comments on an awards show), or add your own opinions to the fray. And when you post something, you can decide whether or not it gets shared outside of the Sidecastr app, on networks like Twitter or Facebook. (It may not be relevant if you're watching on delay.)

I used Sidecastr on Monday afternoon, to watch last Saturday's episode of "Saturday Night Live" (see screenshot below.) The tweets were really well-chosen, and one pointed me to an interesting e-mail that guest host Louis C.K. had written to his fans about doing the show in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. One cool category is "VIP Tweets": comments from the official accounts of people on the show, which you can see whether you're following them on Twitter or not.

Right now, the app only collects tweets for about twenty shows, including "The Walking Dead," "Glee," "Sunday Night Football," and "The Voice." But Sidecastr also captures commentary about special events like the Presidential debates and the CMA Awards.

Sidecastr originally released the app in late June, but just updated it last Friday to better integrate it with Facebook. Brand explains, "The new app looks at your list of Facebook friends, and anyone else who uses the app can see one another's comments, and have conversations within the app among friends."

As for Sidecastr's business model, Brand says that the startup plans to work with advertisers who are already placing ads on the shows that the app covers. "They can use real estate on the app, and real-time interactivity to engage with these rabid fans," he says. "Companies that have paid for product placements might also want to highlight those when they appear on the show."

Brand says that the app has attracted several hundred users since its soft launch in June, and the company has been collecting data about how they use it. "The repeat usage seems to be well above average," he says. But two big questions are whether users will have a desire to view tweets while watching time-shifted shows (I think they will), and how Sidecastr will attract a user base large enough to be of interest to advertisers.

Here's a screenshot I took while watching "SNL."

sidecastrscreen.png


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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