Bluefin Lab’s Tom Thai on the Science of Social TV

Tom Thai is VP of Marketing at Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics company that works with brand advertisers, advertising agencies, and TV networks. Tom has previously held marketing and strategy roles at AOL, CBS Interactive and Google. We spoke to him recently about the emerging science of social television.

The Makegood: There’s been lots of buzz about “Social TV.” What is that exactly?

TT: To me, everything starts with the consumer, so I define it as: “The consumer activity of using social media to engage with TV content.” For example, a person is watching Sunday Night Football on NBC and tweets about it. Another person is watching The Walking Dead on AMC and checks in on GetGlue. Groups of people are watching The X Factor on FOX and discusses it live on Facebook. These are all examples of Social TV activity. Millions of Social TV conversations take place every TV week.

What we’ve always known about TV is that it drives conversation. In the physical world, conversations take place on the couch, at office water coolers, and the like. And in recent years, with social media becoming a core part of most people’s lives, we’re now seeing these millions of conversations take place on  Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, GetGlue, and elsewhere. And the nice thing about all the conversations in social media is that it’s measurable.

The Makegood: Which companies are driving the consumer activity?

TT: The folks at Twitter Media are doing a lot of great work with the TV networks to enable and promote Social TV. The TV networks themselves have also led a lot of the innovation, with apps like HBO Connect, Bravo Now, USA Character Chatter, MTV WatchWith, and others. And the startup space around Social TV is especially interesting, with consumer TV check-in apps like GetGlue and Miso. There are “TV guide” type of apps as well, but powered by your social graph: SocialGuide and Yap.tv are good examples. TVGuide.com themselves have done a lot of great work in social.

Social TV is turning out to be a very rich ecosystem. There’s even a book on Social TV, written by Mike Proulx and Stacey Shepatin, coming out in Feb 2012.

The Makegood: Can you explain what Bluefin Labs is and why it is valuable to marketers? Where does Bluefin fit in within the whole media advertising ecosystem?

TT: Sure, Bluefin Labs is a Social TV analytics company. So instead of operating on the consumer side, we’re on the B2B side. Bluefin is in the data and analytics business, working with brand advertisers, agencies, and TV networks.

For brand advertisers and agencies, our data helps them quantify and connect their investments in paid media (TV ads) and earned media (social conversations).

For TV networks, our data helps them: (a) prove social engagement with their shows to justify premium CPM rates, and (b) gather consumers’ insights about their shows and competitor shows. TV networks want to take advantage of the millions of self-forming “focus groups in the wild” to understand what people are really saying about what they watch on TV.

The Makegood: You’ve worked at some of the biggest names in media – Google, CBS, AOL – what are the differences between your previous roles and your current role?

TT: Those are all big companies, with lots of assets and resources. Bluefin is a little tech startup. And the Social TV space has just started to really emerge in the past 12 months. Everything is very new, but it’s growing and exciting.

The Makegood: Thanks, Tom.