Social TV Startup Kwarter Raises $4 Million To Help Broadcasters And Brands Build Second-Screen Apps

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TV viewers increasingly are using their mobile phones while watching TV, mostly ignoring commercials while doing so. As a result, a number of startups are emerging to try to get viewers’ attention during those times, instead of letting them play games or do email during ad breaks. To meet this demand for interactive experiences between the phone and TV, social TV startup Kwarter has raised $4 million from Deutsche Telekom venture arm T-Venture, as well as Kinetic Ventures, to help grow its platform and expand the number of partners it works with.

There are no shortage of social TV apps out there: Startups like Zeebox and GetGlue and Viggle are trying to change the way that viewers communicate with each other while watching TV, or at least to tap in on changing user behavior that is already occurring thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and tablets in the living room.

To date, that’s mostly meant rolling out consumer-facing apps that use check-ins or built-in chat and messaging clients to lock users into discussing TV on their devices. But San Francisco-based Kwarter has a different approach to unlocking the second screen: Rather than try to build a B2C second-screen app on its own, it’s partnering with broadcasters and brands to enable them to reach their viewers and customers more directly.

That’s becoming ever-more important as those brands and broadcasters are seeing their main audience become distracted by email, Twitter, Angry Birds, and all the other things that users do on their mobile phones instead of watching commercials. It’s all about keeping viewers engaged, even if that means keeping them engaged on some sort of branded mobile app.

Kwarter’s value prop is in providing a platform that partners can use to quickly roll up and integrate with their existing broadcasts or advertising campaigns. Initial rollouts have been focused on sports, with user polls and in-app games, as well as built-in messaging. Users can accrue points across different apps, and then can cash them in for real-world rewards.

Partners include broadcasters like Turner Broadcasting, which leveraged Kwarter’s technology for its Social Dugout app, launched to coincide with the MLB playoffs last year. They also include brand marketers like Bud Light and InBev, which used Kwarter’s platform for its Bud Light Sports Fan app. As the official beer of the NFL, the Bud Light app launched to lure beer drinkers and football fans to take part in second-screen activities, but it will also be used during other sports that Bud Light sponsors.

Kwarter’s new funding brings total money raised to $5 million, including $1 million in convertible notes. The company was founded in 2011 and has nine employees. It expects to more than double that, ending 2013 with more than 20, as it goes after promising new deals with other brands and broadcasters.