Bluefin Labs, $6M in Hand, Looks to Help TV and Ad Execs Cash In on Social Media Analysis

2/2/11Follow @gthuang

An intriguing MIT startup has emerged from pseudo-stealth mode today with a splash of PR. Bluefin Labs, based in Cambridge, MA, spoke with TechCrunch about its strategy for applying text and language analytics to TV advertising and content.

Bluefin Labs (not to be confused with Bluefin Robotics, another MIT spinout) is the brainchild of CEO Deb Roy, an MIT Media Lab professor who’s on leave from the university. He co-founded the company in 2008 with the idea of linking social media to TV in real time. Bluefin revealed that it raised $6 million in Series A financing led by Redpoint Ventures last year. Other investors in that round (and in an earlier seed round) include Lerer Ventures, Acadia Woods Ventures, Brian Bedol, and Jonathan Kraft.

At first, the Bluefin concept sounds a little bit like BuddyTV, a Seattle company focused on social media for TV programs—but it’s quite different upon closer inspection. While BuddyTV is primarily a fan site, Bluefin uses machine learning and semantic analysis—algorithms for discerning the meaning of blogs, tweets, and so forth—to try to understand what viewers are saying about a particular program or commercial. Presumably TV advertisers and programmers will harness that analysis to improve their offerings. (Here’s hoping this will help advertisers make less annoying commercials—though I doubt it.)

As impressive as MIT-related research may sound, semantic analysis of social media is a highly competitive field, and nobody has quite cracked it yet. Companies in the sector include Crimson Hexagon, Lexalytics, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Marchex, Evri, and Visible Technologies, just for starters. It will be interesting to see what kinds of unique insights Bluefin is really able to deliver—and how that impacts TV execs’ bottom line.

For his part, Roy has also been involved with another stealth startup called Unacuna, which raised a small financing round last August. He didn’t respond to a query from Xconomy last year.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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