Zapitano closes €1.7 million. Who will be Germany’s first market leader in Social TV?

Marguerite Imbert 2012-01-13 4

Today Zapitano, the web-based Social TV-platform, closes an investment round of more than €1.7 million. Lead investor is Media Ventures from Cologne. Also participating in the funding is the program “Pro FIT” of the Investment Bank Berlin (IBB),  as well as other private international  investors including Guido Bolten the former MD of SAT.1.

The news prepares Zapitano for its anticipated launch in February. “We are confident that we will become the market leader with this funding,” said managing director Marc Mogalle in an interview with VentureVillage yesterday.

Supplementing the traditional television experience with a web-based social companion, Zapitano not only lets you check into the program, but also invite friends to watch along, chat during the communal viewing, and admire your favorite soccer players or rate x-factor candidates through polls and games.

“We are very pleased with the support that our investors have shown in our vision to make television into a social and interactive event,” says Zapitano initiator Jens Hegenberger.

German Social TV – who will lead?

Social TV is an exciting market in Europe and especially Germany, where minimal competition and wide open (user) fields leave the leading position open for takers. As more users become comfortable integrating social media into their TV ritual (currently 48% of Germans use mobile Internet while watching TV, versus 86% in the US), Social TV platforms will continue to germinate and diversity.

In Germany and especially here in Berlin, Social TV has found expression in a handful of companies.

So far “leading” is Bavarian-based company Waydoo, though with an uncompetitive userbase, it can hardly be intimidating to new companies like Zapitano cropping up with major funding. To its advantage, Waydoo bases its platform conceptually on U.S. services like Miso and GetGlue who integrate status check-ins (while taking into account television from Germany, Austria and Switzerland).  It’s not just for TV and film, either. It covers all entertainment media, including books and events, asking you to check-in, rate, comment and share your favorites with others.

Social TV – Zapitano’s competition

“Social TV is huge internationally and will become much bigger in Germany this year,” says Marcel Duee of Tweek.tv. “There will be broadcasters, publishing houses, tech companies, VoD services and content developers aiming for the same space which a bunch of innovative startups have identified.” Berlin-based Tweek.tv is a content-discovery iPad-only platform building a groundbreaking service on the tailwind of Facebook likes.

Also in the running is Tape.tv, which takes a particular spin on social as Europe’s only social music show, where users can send messages into the studio and talk to the artists via chat roulette.  It currently has about 50.000 viewers LIVE and guests like The Wombats and Kasabian (so we like it). It is also the only German video platform already using Facebook’s frictionless sharing. “Everyone of my friends sees what I am watching and is able to react to it,” said Tape.tv’s Fabian Heuser in an interview with VentureVillage yesterday, “It’s a big advantage.”

“Monetization is not a problem,” said TunedIn’s Sebastian Bartz, “People have been used to commercials on television since its beginning.” As these platforms begin to explore, we’re looking forward to platform-specific commercial content. MadMen anyone?

Social TV – Germany versus USA

In the US, the oldest social entertainment network GetGlue (2007) is the market leader. Yesterday, it announced a new funding round of $12 million, led by new investor Rho Ventures and joined by the company’s existing investors, TimeWarner, RRE Ventures and Union Square Ventures. As comparison, over 75 major television networks work with GetGlue. It has a network of 2 million users.

And over the course of 2011, check-ins grew 1000% and crossed the 100 million mark by year-end. Behind GetGlue, there’s Miso, which just announced its second funding round ($4 million) in early December.  And don’t forget IntoNow (also US based), which was acquired by Yahoo in April for over $20 million.  For a Berlin start-up who’s received only funding into the double and triple digits for a similar product, is this discouraging?

“It’s the funding but also the time advantage that makes the US market so much more sophisticated,” says TunedIn’s Sebastian Bartz. “If your product’s good for Europe, it’s only so-so in America. And that’s if you have a good product.”

TunedIn – Social TV on iPad

In the US, the social TV scene is drastically different: more developed, more competitive, and better funded. With over 30 competing services, several of which have received double digit millions in funding, a German platform would need to be in peak shape to even set foot in this arena.  Shortly after launching in Berlin in December, TunedIn opened an office in New York (co-founder Justin Scull is American.)  They will not disclose their funding, indicating Zapitano’s recent gain is a real threat.

“I’m curious to see if Zapitano’s web-based platform will prove successful among young, mobile users,” said TunedIn co-founder Sebastian Bartz. “We offer a similar concept and delivery, but TunedIn is an iOS native app so it’s nicer to use. At least with other product analogies, users commonly complain that browsing web pages on tablets and iPhones ruins the experience.” Zapitano is yet to introduce an iOS or Android option.

Social TV versus traditional TV

Also up against the social newcomers is the megalith television industry. “At the end of the day, this game is about the existing TV business, which brings in more than $150 billion a year in the U.S. in advertising and consumer spending on monthly TV subscriptions from cable, satellite and telecommunications companies,” says Marcel Duee of Tweek.tv. “As a result, we will see very different approaches and service offerings around what people tend to call ‘social TV’.” Many of the traditional TV networks are also putting much of their content online.

It’s not competition but rather bad timing that’s caused some start-ups to drop out of the race. Israeli-based, Italy-launched Bee TV, for instance, came to a buzzing stop last year despite about 10 million in funding. “Buzz launched in 2007 which was way to early,” says Bartz.

“There need to be enough mobile users and there needs to be awareness among corporations. Social TV a totally new use case. If you tried it too early, you can fail to acquire a userbase and consequently die off.”

What do you think? Who will steal the lead in German social TV? Have your say below.

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