Anthony Rose, the technological brains behind the iPlayer, and more recently chief technology officer of YouView, has teamed up with former EMI senior VP and Peoplesound founder Ernesto Schmitt to launch real-time, cross-platform social TV platform, Zeebox.
New media age spoke to the co-founders about their new venture ahead of its October launch and the opportunities it will create for brands, broadcasters, and consumers.
What is Zeebox and why have you launched it?
Ernesto Schmitt: Zeebox is a cloud-based platform that connects to your Twitter and Facebook social graph letting people see what their friends are watching on TV. It also analyses the second-by-second context of what’s on TV. By understanding what’s on air you can provide a range of digital experiences that matches that content, from things to buy, information to get, ways to interact and transact. And we do it across devices, either with the device being paired with the TV or integratd into the TV itself.
Anthony Rose: Video-on-demand (VOD) is all about taking last night’s TV and letting you watch it today. It’s all about convenience but it doesn’t change the actual experience. Imagine you have a device that knows second-by-second what’s playing on TV, and it knows which of your friends are watching what, and brings their conversations to that device. The fact it’s cloud-based means we can create a real-time messaging fabric which connects with Facebook and Twitter social graphs and then knows in real-time who’s watching what. It also means we get great real-time analytics. So when an ad breaks and everyone dumps that channel and goes elsewhere, you can see on the interface where that traffic moves. It will revolutionise the way we watch TV.
Why is a platform like Zeebox necessary?
Schmitt: People’s expectations of how to consume media have changed fundamentally. They now expect their media experiences to be socially connected, interactive, non-linear, information-augmented, and transactional. But the place where all media is still consumed is the home living room TV, a place that has resisted those changes for years because it’s been shielded from digital. The most recent attempts to do innovative things in digital, like the iPlayer, are limited. It’s really no more than time-shifted TV, largely because breakthrough innovation rarely comes from incumbent businesses - so TV and broadcast in general haven’t changed. But the mass adoption of connected TVs will change that.
How can broadcasters benefit and which have shown interest in Zeebox?
Rose: One of the main benefits for broadcasters is around our plug-in architecture. Companion apps have become the fashion for broadcasters. But for consumers it’s troublesome to have to go elsewhere to download it. So we’re providing tools to broadcaster and programme makers which will let them embed their companion experiences within Zeebox, aligning them with the relevant TV show in the same place. Also rather than having a separate TV and web experience it brings the two experiences together rather than taking them to another location - which is something big broadcasters have missed.
Schmitt: We’re working with three of the top four broadcasters, and four of the five main consumer electornics manufacturers, while Samsung is currently running demos of the service on its web-connected TVs. We’re also working with two of the biggest production houses on developing new forms of participatory TV shows, which the Zeebox platform can faciliate.
What are the ad targeting opportunities for brands?
Rose: When you advertise on broadcast TV there’s no personalisation, no real-time analytics, no targeting by user, no click, whereas doing it on a second screen you get all that - and advertisers can choose seconds before through competitive ad bidding systems which ad gets showed to a user. The internet is decades ahead of where TV is in that sense, and that space is about to be revolutionised. The more astute broadcasters are now looking to enhance their ad revenues by offering dual-screen propositions.
Schmitt: We’re building a platform that enables total synchronisation between on air and second-screen advertising. We’re transaction-enabling TV advertising, which is huge. If you enable through a platform like Zeebox to shorten the journey on TV to the ability to transact - that’s extremely valuable.
Will this be disruptive in the market - either to broadcasters, or platforms like YouView?
Rose: YouView seeks to be a central, metadata indexing service with content, whereas we are a social proposition centred on second-by-second augmentation data, so the two platforms make nice companions for each other.
Schmitt: We’re not here to replace linear TV - we don’t subscribe to the notion that internet TV spells the death of linear TV, which is what Google and Apple TV are trying to do, - in fact it’s the opposite. TV is here to stay - we just want to enhance that experience. We want to take the best of the digital world - an ability to connect socially, transact, get information, and make them available as an augmented layer that’s relevant to what you’re watching on TV.
Is the market ready for a platform like Zeebox?
Schmitt: In the next three years more than half of all UK and global households will have their main TV internet connected - either thorough TV itself or through a connected device - that’s 500m units between now and 2014 - a mass adoption is about to happen. Sony, for example, has 27 models available in the UK - 24 of them are connected. Alongside that is the proliferation and mass adoption of companion devices - smartphones, tablets, consoles, - and the growth of multi-tasking across these devices.