The iTV Doctor Is In!: IntoNow Update

Dear Readers:

Last spring I moderated a TV of Tomorrow Show panel on Automatic Content Recognition (ACR). We had a number of up-and-coming companies represented, and a few of them have done quite well.

Of course, the company with the fastest start was IntoNow, represented by founder and CEO Adam Cahan. IntoNow arrived at TVOT fresh from announcing their acquisition by Yahoo!, and that created quite a bit of buzz. In fact, we spotted Adam conducting impromptu panels on just that topic during the breaks!

But with all that discussion, and the wide variety of panels, IntoNow's actual product may have gotten lost in the noise. For those who missed the panel, here is a link to Adam's presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6f5CECUGJGg/

I've been using IntoNow on my iPhone 4s, and it is slick. Open the app, click the green button, and in a couple of seconds the device knows what I'm watching. However when I asked Siri (The iPhone 4s voice-recognition gal), "What am I watching on television?," she drew a blank. So I guess full iPhone 4s integration is still in progress.

But slick may not be enough: CNET's Harry McCracken wrote this past week, "By itself, the identification is kind of a party trick. Generally speaking, if you're watching a TV program, you either already know what it is or can find out easily enough."

And while that's certainly true, IntoNow is all about ENABLING companion device interaction with television viewing. With a small(ish) screen, the iPhone can't do a whole lot. Right now, IntoNow lets me announce to the world what I'm watching on television, and of course I can make and read pithy comments about Joe Paterno on ESPN's "SportsCenter." But IntoNow on a smartphone is really about the social experience. It doesn't do a whole lot more than that. It is kind of a long run for a short slide.

But with their recent announcement of an iPad app that encourages users to consume content, rather than simply share content, we decided to check back in. Here's the official IntoNow iPad video--worth taking a look:

At deadline, Adam was unavailable, so we spoke to Cameron Johnson, IntoNow's director of product management.

iTV Doctor: Cameron--how many people are using IntoNow today?

Johnson: It's been downloaded 1.6 million times, primarily on iPhone and more recently on Android. We don't have the iPad stats yet.

iTV Doctor: So you're nowhere close to television-standard critical mass yet, but when you get there, how do you make money?

Johnson: Currently the advertising has been done through co-promotions on Yahoo.com. We did a project with Lifetime on "Project Runway," where we built a custom experience in the app so users got videos, cast bios, polling and more interesting content. And simultaneously Lifetime did a promotion on Yahoo! for the new season of "Project Runway" and promoted the IntoNow app. But for now our focus is on user acquisition and growth. We have lots of advertising opportunities that I can't really share at this time. Of course, Yahoo has great relations with the premier brands that are looking for companion experiences on television to enhance their ads--where you can dig into the ad and make it interactive. So we can take advantage of all those relationships.

iTV Doctor: On my iPhone (where I discovered the other night that I was watching the same program as Mark Cuban) can IntoNow keep up with me as I channel surf?

Johnson: No. With the current technology you need to re-tag the show when you change channels.

iTV Doctor: Understood. But now everybody (including your competitors) is looking to stay in sync with the viewer over the course of the evening. We all want to be able to move with the viewer when the viewer moves around.

Johnson: Nobody is there yet.

iTV Doctor: Gotcha. But let's get to the commercial model. Let's say I'm watching "Fringe" on Fox on a Friday night and we get to a commercial break. The device thinks I'm still watching "Fringe," because I haven't told it otherwise, and a Ford Focus ad comes on. Now the device doesn't KNOW that a Ford Focus ad has come on; it only knows I was watching "Fringe" 13 minutes ago when I hit the button. But buried back in the software Yahoo! knows Rick is watching "Fringe," and that a Ford Focus ad is part of that roadmap for that show. At some point your thinking must be to provide a timely interaction with a Ford Focus ad. You know Rick is watching "Fringe," and there is a Ford Focus ad 13 minutes into the show. So we're going to send him Ford Focus content. Right?

Johnson: There are some technical limitations--but, broadly speaking, we can go there. Now we know that people with companion devices, particularly tablets, are using those devices when they watch television. And during commercial breaks they may be checking Facebook, email, or looking for content about the show. But they probably would NOT be looking for content during the show, for fear of missing something. When you are on a primetime show with a narrative, you're engrossed in what you're watching, so the commercial breaks are actually the ideal time to explore. We can give users an interactive television advertising experience during those breaks.
 
iTV Doctor: And this is really more iPad than iPhone.

Johnson: IntoNow for iPhone has been primarily around social interaction; that fits the form factor of the device. iPad is taking that another step. Because IntoNow is part of Yahoo, we have access to the huge richness of Yahoo! content. We have the leading sports site in the world, the leading celebrity gossip site in the world and the leading news site in the world. We can bring all that to the user. We basically have three initial integrations: NFL Football, Celebrity Gossip and News.

With live NFL football you tag the game you're watching, and we bring you content automatically: real-time score, stats, player stats--all the things that are traditionally on the television screen under the control of the broadcast (when they want to show it to you). Now you can get all that anytime you want. It's right there for you. You can click on all that whenever you want it.

iTV Doctor: At TVOT, Adam talked about enhancing "Project Runway" and "Jersey Shore." Is there more coming?

Johnson: We have been focused with using Yahoo! content, for a broad number of shows. We want to give users a broad experience. For an entertainment show, we can bring in real-time Twitter feeds from the cast members. For news, we pull in the CORE (Content Optimization and Relevance Engine) technology, where we bring in the close-captioning transcripts for the real-time of what's being talked about during the show. So we can find the topics that the user is learning about, and bring in relevant content about those topics. If he's watching a news program about the economy in Italy, we can bring in Yahoo! headlines and stories that are up-to-the-minute coverage in depth about that. We can bring that information to the tablet and it will pop right up to the top of the display. That continues while the broadcasters are talking and changing from topic to topic. It's football, celebrity gossip and news now, and we are expanding rapidly through next year. We are going to enhance more and more networks and programs.

iTV Doctor: And would there be a fee to the broadcaster for doing that?

Johnson: Not necessarily. We want to grow this as large as we can, and the best way to do that is to give the users the best experience possible.

iTV Doctor: Let's say I'm watching the Monday primetime news program "30 Rock" on NBC. The NBC news organization decides they want to drive the conversation that goes along with that show with their own content. How do you handle that? Which goes on top: Yahoo! or NBC?

Johnson: We want to deliver what's best to the user. Yahoo! just struck a deal with ABC News, so the ABC News content is being delivered by Yahoo! For example, we're enhancing the "Good Morning America" Web site. So if you tag "GMA," we're delivering Yahoo! headlines from their own site.

iTV Doctor: Well, I can guarantee you that NBC wouldn't want ABC-branded news headlines to come up which I'm watching "30 Rock."

Johnson: Absolutely. We're amenable to working with the network. The people that are creating the shows know what's best for their own viewers, so we work collaboratively with them.

iTV Doctor: In that same vein, you don't need to break the ice commercializing that enhanced content. If you're working with the programming network, they'll do that themselves: "These headlines are brought to you by (one of the sponsors of tonight's show)," or something like that.

Johnson: We'll have to see how that plays out.

iTV Doctor: Well, enjoy pulling the arrows out of your back! And at some point you'll have to deal with a Yahoo!-sold sponsor of the enhanced content, competing with a network-sold sponsor of the television content. Good luck with that!

Johnson: That comes with the territory when you have the first-mover advantage. We think the world of the television viewer is a flat-screen on the wall and a tablet on the coffee table. And that's IntoNow's sweet spot.

 

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The iTV Doctor is *Rick Howe*, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at itvdoctor@itvt.com

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