As television audiences shrink, the networks are suddenly very interested in partnerships that bridge the digital divide. That might help explain why a big brand like Bravo TV would announce a partnership with a tiny startup like Foursquare today. And it might just work.

Starting this week, Foursquare will start awarding its users with badges that have Bravo themes when they visit over 500 locations associated with the network. The announcement is just one of many partnerships Foursquare has been quickly announcing, and it is just the kind of thing that networks need to do if they want to connect their television audiences with digital and real world products.

Bravo’s reality television programming has done wonders for the restaurants, hair salons and designers featured on its programming. But getting fans of television shows to spend money in the real world is easier with a clear connector. And social features like Foursquare close that loophole.

Plans to merge television with mobile haven’t really taken off yet. But a network like Bravo has much to gain from such integration. Many of the channel’s reality franchises — from “The Real
Housewives” and “Sheer Genius” to “Top Chef” and “Top Chef” — take place in the real world, and have much to gain from viewers visiting the locations that are used for footage and owned by the stars of shows.

According to The New York Times:

“Lisa Hsia, senior vice president for digital media at Bravo, said, ‘The
amazing part of Foursquare is the incentive of the game itself and
we’re going to offer a variety of badges for our viewers.’ Mrs. Hsia
explained that Bravo hosts had helped tag show-related locations with
tips and the chance to win these new badges. They also plan to offer a
sweepstakes and other awards as an incentive for viewers to play.
Advertisers may also offer their own incentives, including coupons.”

But while Foursquare’s numbers are growing quickly (the company’s user base grew over 100% in January) it is still miniscule compared to Bravo’s audience numbers. If the startup can continue making big branded partnerships like this, however, it will have some defenses set up for competitors in the space.

Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley tells The Business Insider
that check-in features will be a “commodity by the end of the year.”

Already, competitors like Gowalla are quickly approaching. Meanwhile, new gaming check-in startup MyTown earned 500,000 users and 31 million check-ins in just over a month of existence. And just last week, news leaked that Facebook may come out with a Foursquare competitor.

Crowley goes on to say that the differentiator will be whoever provides “the most incentive
for a user to check-in,” and thinks Foursquare is the leader in that

Partnerships like this one with Bravo will be a big help in that area. Especially if brands with high audience numbers can help grow the company’s users beyond its current group of intensely urban tech devotees.

For Bravo, getting its users accustomed to checking in at venues will be a boon regardless of how the check-in wars play out. And if any significant percentage of Bravo viewers join up and use Foursquare, the company’s user base will grow exponentially.

Because even with terrific features and integrations, Foursquare needs to acquire users if it wants to survive as bigger entities like Facebook start dipping into check-in territory.

Image: Bravo