Second Screen App Peel Debuts In-App Voting for U.S. Presidential Debates

Today second screen app Peel announced that it’s updating its Android tablet app to allow users to give feedback during the upcoming U.S. presidential debates. The Peel Smart Remote TV app comes pre-loaded on five Samsung GALAXY devices, and using the app viewers will be able to give their reaction to candidates’ responses, and see how their opinion compares to the rest of the country.

This isn’t the first time the company has launched a custom TV show experience to measure viewer sentiment. Earlier this year the company partnered with American Idol to let viewers cheer and boo for their favorite contestants, performances, and judges. That experience was iOS-only though, while the presidential debates experience is designed exclusively for Android tablets.

“What we found was that for our American Idol test we saw the number of interactions in the 1300, 1400, 1500 interactions per user [range],” Peel’s VP of Marketing Scott Ellis said in an interview. “That was a talent competition, this is for the president of the United States, so I expect that we’ll have people tapping in to the tens of thousands over the course of the debate.”

The debates start on October 3, and users of the supported devices, including the Samsung GALAXY Tab, Tab 2 and Samsung Note 10.1, can access the updated functionality by installing a free update. Using the app, viewers can switch to any channel airing the debate, and after choosing who they’re voting for (Romney, Obama or undecided), viewers can offer feedback during the live broadcast, giving candidates a “cheer” or “boo” based on their responses. Viewers can check out their responses over the debate, and the sentiment across all users, and after the debate is over weigh in on who they think won the debate, with the option to share demographic information.

Peel will then be collecting and releasing data on viewer sentiment after the debates are over, showing a line graph of viewer sentiment based on whether they said they were voting Democratic, Republican, or undecided. They’ll also graph the comments, responses and topics that had the most reactions. Peel users also have to provide their zip code when they first sign up for the app, so the company will be showing what the sentiment is like based on geography, and based on the optional demographic information viewers provided.

“It’s pretty crazy to think about the fact that this technology wasn’t even available for the last election,” Ellis said. “This is the first time you’ll ever really be able to on a mass scale collect real-time feedback on what people are doing that’s not calling them up after the debate.”

Peel originally launched its second screen apps in 2010 to allow people to interact with their TV content on their tablets or smartphones, and announced in October 2011 that the app would come pre-loaded on certain Samsung GALAXY devices. The app is also available for smartphone on the Google Play marketplace and Apple App Store, and iOS users can purchase $99.95 pear-shaped hardware to turn their free app into a universal remote (Android tablet users can do that automatically since supported devices have built-in infrared technology). Similar to other second screen tablet apps like GetGlue and zeebox, Peel’s free app lets users find content, check-in to shows, favorite or cut shows to receive personalized recommendations, and share shows on Facebook and Twitter.

While the American Idol pilot and the debate experience don’t feature in-app advertising or any fees for the content creators, Ellis said these types of partnerships could definitely be a revenue driver down the road, both in terms of advertising and viewer analytics. “You could imagine doing advertising in an engagement experience like this in the future,” Ellis said. “We’re still very much in the learning phase of this, but in general if you can try and connect with a large group who are really passionate about a show, or in this particular case an election debate, I think that gives you invaluable feedback in answering some of those questions about what is the engagement model for consumers in their living room.”

There’s a lot of competition for viewers’ eyeballs, not just for TV programs but for second screen apps vying for their attention on smartphones and tablets while they watch. UK-based zeebox debuted its app in the U.S. last week with investment from NBCUniversal and Comcast Cable, and announced a content partnership with HBO and other networks. GetGlue hit three million members for its platform in August, and debuted a new iPad app to focus on program discovery, with an Android version coming later this fall.

Since launching in 2010, the company has made over 100 million content recommendations, and raised $16.7 million in Series B funding in May 2011. It introduced an updated iOS app in January 2012, and though it’s not disclosing growth numbers, Ellis said it’s going “fantastic.” Peel’s focus on not just content discovery but being a smart remote sets it apart, and if it can capitalize on the elections to drive user interaction, while proving out possible revenue models in future, it could be one of the leaders in the second screen space.





Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin Bury is a Co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning platform. Also a former Managing Director at Eighty-Eight, a creative communications agency based in Toronto. She was formerly the Managing Editor at BetaKit. Follow her on Twitter at @erinbury.

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