Facebook takes on Twitter with real-time Super Bowl hub

Looks like Facebook has decided it can do Twitter’s job better.

The social media site has built a live news hub for Sunday’s upcoming Super Bowl. It will feature user posts as they occur in real time, along with Super Bowl attendees’ videos and photos, content from the NFL, players and media companies, and the current score. It’s a shot across the bow to Twitter, the king of real-time content.

Twitter has struggled to build an easy, clear onboarding system for new users, leaving a hole Facebook can easily fill. Even during its Analyst Day, CEO Dick Costolo fielded a complaint from an analyst in the audience who tried to sign up for Twitter during the presentation and couldn’t figure it out.

In contrast, Facebook has more than 152 million users in the United States and Canada alone, many of whom aren’t on Twitter yet. It can parlay them into its own Super Bowl hub for their fix of social connecting while the event unfolds. According to Reuters, Facebook is even selling targeted ad units that it will show to people discussing the Super Bowl on the site.

The experiment could potentially set the precedent for more event-based, real-time hubs down the line. It will also show that Twitter isn’t the only social network that can do live.

Assuming Facebook’s Super Bowl hub is a success, of course. The company doesn’t have a lot of experience with live channels and people on it are used to the algorithmic nature of the newsfeed. The company may not be able to expand its brand to include real-time posting.

A screenshot of Facebook's Superbowl hub on Wednesday, January 28th

A screenshot of Facebook’s Superbowl hub on Wednesday, January 28th

Here’s why new competitors can’t do what Hotel Tonight does

HotelTonight, the app for booking a hotel stay on the go, has introduced new personalized price cuts, one called a “bonus rate” and the other called a “rate drop.”

Bonus rate: left; Rate drop: right

Rate drop: left; Bonus rate: right

The apps will analyze your phone’s location and offer you added discounts for hotels in specific other cities, a deal it’s calling a “bonus rate.”

For example, if you’re in San Francisco you may see that a same-day $145 room at a Los Angeles hotel is now discounted to $85. But if you’re in Munich, you’ll only see the original HotelTonight price. HotelTonight is trying to tempt people who might not otherwise travel or stay in a hotel to change their minds. “Some people value price and flexibility over the certainty of where they’re staying,” CEO Sam Shank told me. “At some point I hit my price point.”

Conversely, the app is also introducing a price cut known as a “rate drop” that can only be seen by people in close proximity to a specific hotel. Once again, the idea is to tempt people that might not otherwise spend the night in a place to change their mind. “People who weren’t thinking of booking a hotel in advance. Perhaps the other option was to stay with a friend or get a train home,” Shank said.

The hotels don’t want to cannibalize their business by slashing their rates on their websites on a day to day basis. Then they’d lose money from people who might have booked at the full price anyways. But by using cell phone location coordinates, the hotels can target new customers through HotelTonight that they might not otherwise snag, without losing their brand loyalists who would pay full price. “It’s about growing the market,” Shank said.

As anyone who uses HotelTonight already knows, the app offers the cheapest possible prices for same day booking. Hotels actually have to bid the lowest fee for their type of accommodation in order to be featured in the app. The companies most willing to do that are those with a lot of empty rooms they need to fill up.

This is a feature that HotelTonight’s bigger competitors, companies like Expedia and Priceline, have been able to imitate once they saw it worked. With bigger brand awareness, it’s a worthy foe for the comparably scrappy startup.

But the latest bonus rate and rate drop features aren’t going to be quite as easy for the travel giants to rip off. For them to work, they require up-to-the-minute information on a person’s location, down to specific mileage. As a result, customers have to be accustomed to checking hotel rates and booking rooms from their phone, a concept that HotelTonight’s clientele is obviously on board with, but Expedia’s legacy user base, maybe not so much.

Social media and analytics counter online ad crisis

Content and media sites are struggling to accommodate the polarizing forces of programmatic ad-buying and native advertising. While there’s no single solution to thriving in digital advertising, social media analytics can help.

Today in Social

Is personalization the new social? Ryan Kim likes Zebek’s chances at establishing a personalization platform because it’s targeting mobile and is respectful of privacy. I haven’t talked to the company, but based on a slide presentation and its website, it doesn’t seem to license data from the Experians and Nielsens of the world to feed its algorithms. Rather, it harvests free stuff online and works with its B2B customers’ customer data. Until it has a critical mass of users, its collaborative filtering won’t do much. Call me skeptical until Zebek signs up a few more big customers – the ones it highlights are mostly small-ish local media companies. But don’t get me wrong, local context will be a key personalization mechanism.

Comcast Using BlackArrow’s Ad Insertion Tech for VOD

BlackArrow announced today that its targeted TV ad platform is now live on Comcast’s (s CMCSA) On Demand programming in Jacksonville, Fla.. This is BlackArrow’s first market implementation with a major MSO.

Typically, ads inserted into operator VOD programming are stitched into the content itself, which limits the flexibility of the ad placement. According to BlackArrow CEO Dean Denhart, usually it takes 60 to 90 days to get a video ad into a piece of VOD content. Denhart said that using BlackArrow’s system, cable operators like Comcast can dynamically change up the ads served in real-time to deliver more relevant ads. BlackArrow allows operators to target ads based on demographics, genre, time of day or any number of different factors.

The company says it can deliver this level of targeting because its system lives in the network, with no software on the set-top box. BlackArrow sits with the regional operating centers before the content reaches the consumer, so targeted ads can be inserted into the videos before they are delivered to the end user. Comcast will use BlackArrow’s technology to insert 15-, 20- and 30-second promotional spots designed to drive tune-in for upcoming shows and specials on PBS KIDS Sprout and FEARnet.

BlackArrow is four years old and has raised $38 million in funding from investors including Comcast Interactive Capital, Cisco Systems and Intel Capital. Other players in the addressable TV advertising space include Canoe Ventures (which Denhart sees as more of a partner), Microsoft (s MSFT) and Google (s GOOG) TV Ads.