Interview: Visiware's PlayAlong Second-Screen Interactive TV Platform

Visiware, a company best known for its interactive TV games, recently announced that its PlayAlong second-screen platform has added interactivity to over 700 broadcasts across 10 countries (see the article published on, May 20th). [itvt] recently emailed some questions about PlayAlong to Visiware, and the company's responses are below (note: our regular daily news coverage will return shortly):

[itvt]: Could you tell us a little bit about your PlayAlong second-screen interactive TV platform and how you feel it is differentiated in what is an increasingly crowded second-screen ITV market?

Visiware: At its heart, Visiware's PlayAlong product is a more complete social-TV offering than what is currently in the market, and it is actually being used today by more networks and viewers than any other offering. PlayAlong provides three key value propositions that differentiate it from other second-screen products.  

First, PlayAlong leverages Visiware's gamification expertise to provide the viewer with a way to participate real-time with the show they are watching. PlayAlong is designed to support those shows where a viewer finds themselves yelling at the TV--i.e. game shows, reality TV, and sports broadcasts. PlayAlong then delivers different functions once the viewer is playing along with the show it's supporting: tcommerce, interactive advertising, statistics, polling, voting, chatting, posting, tweeting, enhanced content, and check-in. It's fair to say that PlayAlong is the next generation in social-TV/second-screen solutions, providing features and functionality that go well beyond the current check-ins, tweeting, and posting that best describe the current offerings in the market.

Second, PlayAlong is being deployed as a B2B solution to support networks' and production companies' initiatives. It can be integrated into an existing network-branded or show app. We are not looking to create our own brand, known by the end-consumer. Instead we are looking to preserve and improve the relationship between the viewer and the network. Creating a solution that supports the network's relationship with its viewers is one of the most important tenets in the second-screen market.

Third, PlayAlong is designed as a 360-degree solution. It generates revenues for the networks and producers, thanks to our PlayAnytime 24/7 Web and Facebook tcommerce and advertising platforms, which are fully integrated with it. Specifically, PlayAlong's 360-degree approach allows viewers to interact with those networks' and producers' content through PlayAnytime by supporting interactive experiences (casual or paid gaming) and by supporting the purchase of in-show or show-sponsored content.

[itvt]: Could you talk more about how Visiware has drawn on its heritage in casual interactive TV games in order to develop PlayAlong?

Visiware: Visiware's DNA is to work with operators and channels: we built the solution with these customers and this ecosystem in mind, knowing the reality of the business. As a developer of interactive TV applications since the early days, we have a deep knowledge of what users want in a UI. Visiware has learned a lot over the years and concluded that interactive TV is the best methodology for gamification of a mass-market audience.

[itvt]: Can you talk about the cloud-based technology that allows PlayAlong to synchronize with the broadcast?

Visiware: The whole PlayAlong platform and solution is cloud-based. The cloud is the perfect infrastructure solution because it supports automatic scaling, which we've optimized over the last two years. The result is that we can produce a PlayAlong show that supports approximately 200,000 concurrent PlayAlong viewers for less than $100! This is really an amazing breakthrough Visiware has achieved and it allows PlayAlong to scale to support millions of PlayAlong viewers without being cost-prohibitive.

Visiware has already successfully produced 700 shows with 10 leading networks around the world and supported 20 million game sessions played. We have and are still working very hard to optimize and increase the reliability of the platform. No other company in the world has this demonstrable track record. This is really important as our clients such as TF1, ZDF, ITV require best-in-class security, robustness, and reliability for any services that are supporting their television broadcasts.

[itvt]: Can you give us an example of how the viewer might experience a show that's enabled with PlayAlong: what sort of enhancements are they seeing on their second-screen device throughout the course of the show?

Visiware: We will launch our "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" PlayAlong in the UK on [commercial terrestrial broadcaster] ITV this summer. The PlayAlong viewer will be able to have the same experience on their tablet, smartphone, and online via their computer as the show's contestants. The experience for a viewer in their living room will be the same as if they were an actual contestant on the show. The questions and answers will display on the second screen at the same time as they do on TV. The time to answer the question will be the same and the answer will be revealed at the same time on both the TV and the second screen. The experience will be seamless and real-time. Furthermore, the second-screen experience will be enhanced with statistics that will not only show the PlayAlong viewer's own score, but will provide stats about how the overall PlayAlong community scored, based on different parameters, such as age, gender, geographic location. Additionally, there will be leaderboards, and prizes for PlayAlong viewers to win, and a PlayAnytime game that will support monetization outside the show. Ads will be displayed on the second screen, like they are on TV, and we will be working to develop an interactive advertising experience that will innovate the second-screen ad experience.

[itvt]: Can you talk more about PlayAlong's monetization capabilities?

Visiware: PlayAlong supports several monetization approaches:

Tcommerce during the show: PlayAlong allows advertisers and networks to deliver feeds that promote products in the show and advertising running during the show. The feeds and ads are clickable, so that a PlayAlong viewer can purchase something they see in the show or on an ad running during the show, with one click to get to the purchase screen.

Tcommerce outside of the show: PlayAlong allows networks to deliver enhanced and premium content that PlayAlong viewers can purchase at any time, along with all the in-show products. Likewise, ads from the shows are available at all times for a viewer to see whenever they choose. These ads will also be clickable like they are during the show, to support the one-click purchase experience.

Visiware PlayAnytime: PlayAnytime supports a casual or paid gaming experience that is available outside of the show. We develop game versions of the show that a user can play when the show is not being aired. In Europe, PlayAnytime has been a big success.

Advertising: PlayAlong supports advertising on the second screen during a broadcast that can mirror the advertising that is going on during the televised broadcast--i.e. the same video playing on both the second screen and TV. Likewise, PlayAlong can also integrate other types of advertising into the second screen--specifically interactive advertising where some type of fun gamification is put around the ads, as well as advertising formats such as images, that can be displayed more often than a video ad. Overall, we designed PlayAlong to optimize the advertising experience and support the goals of both advertisers and networks while not diminishing the PlayAlong viewer experience and, in many ways, improving it.

[itvt]: Can you talk about PlayAlong in the US market--has it enabled any shows here yet? How are you marketing it here? What kinds of customers are you targeting?

Visiware: PlayAlong did launch in the USA, with Fox and Endemol for the show "Million Dollar Money Drop" in the fall of 2011. Although that show only had a short run in the US, the format has become very popular throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world. PlayAlong is now part of "Money Drop" in 10 countries and is running multiple times daily, often in primetime, on live shows across the continent, and supporting hundreds of broadcasts and millions of viewers.

We are marketing PlayAlong in the US in a couple of different ways. First, we are leveraging our expertise for products that we are, or will be, supporting and seeing how we can launch them in the US for existing shows. We are looking for the most appropriate types of shows that lend themselves well to a PlayAlong experience. These include game shows, reality TV, and live sports broadcasts. We are going to market as a B2B provider, because we are looking to support the initiatives of operators, networks, and production companies with a complete platform that helps them build a relationship with their existing and new viewers. And we're also looking to offer them second-screen monetization opportunities and support their second-screen advertising efforts. We are also working on brand new show concepts that are only possible with an integrated PlayAlong experience, and that is also very exciting. PlayAlong's primary targets are networks, production and content-creation companies, sports leagues, and advertisers.

[itvt]: What sort of data is PlayAlong generating from viewer interactions, and how are you and your customers making use of that data?

Visiware: The PlayAlong platform can capture a broad range of data, and that is actually one of the strongest and most compelling features of the product. Specifically, since a key feature of PlayAlong is that it delivers real-time stats to the PlayAlong viewer, we capture viewers' responses to questions and then analyze that data on an individual and group level in order to enhance their second-screen experience via such data points as: points, leaderboards, time-to-answer, and comparison of answers across different parameters such as gender and location.  

In addition to gathering data in order to enhance the user experience, PlayAlong also gathers data that allows networks and advertisers to know their viewers better. This kind of data includes IP address location, as well as the responses to different types of in-show questions. Also, when the viewer registers, we can collect whatever type of information a network or advertiser wants--age, gender, interests, zip code, email address, phone number, mobile phone, etc. Thus, PlayAlong supports robust data analytics and CRM.

[itvt]: Have any broadcasters/programmers integrated PlayAlong into their programming formats from the ground up, so that it forms an integral element of the show itself?

Visiware: This is a very interesting question and something we are discussing with networks, production companies, and advertisers when we meet with them.

[itvt]: What's your roadmap for PlayAlong over the coming year or so?

Visiware: The roadmap for PlayAlong in the next 12 months is twofold. First, we want to launch with the kinds of programming that fits the PlayAlong experience best and where it can add value for the networks and viewers. Specifically, we'd like to see a PlayAlong launch in the US on a game show, with a sports league, and/or with a reality-TV show. Secondly, we are in the process of rolling out new features and functionality in an important new version of our platform that should be available by the end of the summer.