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"American Idol" Gets One-Stop Social Platform From Peel, The Next-Gen TV Guide
[Photo: Flickr user Kelly Sikkema]

Peel, the app that learns your television tastes and turns your iPhone in a remote control, launched with the aim of creating a next-generation TV guide. "We started with discovery and control," says Scott Ellis, Peel's VP of marketing. "Now, we're focused on blowing out our social sharing."

Today, the startup, which has raised more than $24 million in VC funding, finally unveiled its social experience at SXSW. Now, when consumers scroll through Peel's visual display of TV recommendations, they'll soon start seeing the option to take a deeper dive into certain featured shows, such as American Idol, where they can gain access to social and interactive content. For Peel, the move represents a play for the "second screen," a catch-all term for the smartphones and tablets consumers are turning to alongside TV, and a market that major companies—from Twitter to Yahoo to Shazam—are racing to win. Peel believes it's finally cracked the code on what viewers are looking for on the second screen.

"I don't think social for the consumer is really about checking in or tweeting or getting stickers," Ellis says. "It's about engaging with the primary screen in a much richer way."

Take American Idol. When singers take the stage this week, Peel users won't have to search for the right hashtag on Twitter or check in on GetGlue; rather, since Peel knows what you're watching, the second-screen experience will already be at your fingertips. Peel's experience provides users the option to boo or cheer performers in real-time; to disagree or agree with judges; to tweet directly from the app; and purchase the songs playing from iTunes. It's a centralized social platform that cuts through the increasing clutter of TV watching.

"You're starting to see a whole bunch of apps pop up, for programs or networks or cable providers, which is only exacerbating the problem," Ellis explains. "There are too many frickin' channels; I have too many remotes; and now they're going to throw too many apps at me." Peel is attempting to aggregate it all into one experience, enabling you not only to interact socially through one app but control all your devices—your TV, DVR, DVD player—through one remote.

The platform is architected in a way to allow it to scale to other shows and genres of TV. Peel imagines it'll be perfect for competition shows (like The Voice or The Bachelor), sports (like the Olympics), and long story arc dramas such as 24 and Lost, which require viewers to stay updated week to week or risk missing the entire plot. So, imagine voting for your favorite contestant on The X Factor, or learning more historical context about Boardwalk Empire during an episode, or looking up a statistic during the Patriots game—soon, Peel promises, you'll be able to do that within one single app.

What's in it for Peel? Though the Peel "fruit," the Yves Béhar-designed device that wirelessly connects your iPhone to your cable box, costs $99, the startup believes its future is in advertising, content, and potential licensing deals. Just as the app, which is free, can offer an option to a purchase a song playing on Idol from iTunes, the startup imagines it could one day offer to personalized advertising or customized content around what you're viewing—say, the option to buy the dress a particular character is wearing in this scene or the next.

But for now, Peel is rolling out the experience carefully. Interestingly, the startup decided not to approach Fox for the second-screen experience it created for American Idol, nor does it anticipate reaching out to other networks in the near term.

"I know if we started the discussions now, it would be very theoretical, and then we might have an agreement next year, maybe," Ellis says. "My sense is at most big companies, the natural inclination is, 'Wow, you guys probably shouldn't do that [without us].' But that's not going to stop us. If we're really successful and get a lot of attention, then they will come to us before we go to them."