The iTV Doctor Is In! Twitter and InstantPlay from Ex Machina

Dear Readers:

Most of us use Twitter for quick news, updates and the occasional guilty pleasure. And the folks in the content-creation and content-distribution worlds are finding that Twitter is an increasingly efficient way to distribute enhancements for television viewing.

Last year, Twitter announced their plans to standardize some of that activity with Twitter "cards" with a number of flavors. Here's how the Twitter Developers site describes the options:

"There are 6 card types that can be attached to Tweets, each of which has a beautiful consumption experience built for Twitter's Web and mobile clients:


  • Summary Card: Default card, including a title, description, thumbnail, and Twitter account attribution.
  • Photo Card: A Tweet-sized photo card.
  • Gallery Card: A Tweet card geared toward highlighting a collection of photos.
  • App Card: A Tweet card for providing a profile of an application.
  • Player Card: A Tweet-sized video/audio/media player card.
  • Product Card: A Tweet card to better represent product content."

But the problem with most of those cards (with the exception of the "Player Card") is that they require multiple taps for the user to get to the content. And with every tap you lose a portion of your audience: the more taps, the smaller the audience.  
The fewer taps, the larger the audience.
Don't make the users work too hard to engage. Bring them in--quickly and easily--and then let them play.

The other day, an intriguing item landed on my desk. Ex Machina, the Netherlands-based interactive television and gaming company, was starting to play in the Twitter space. And inasmuch as your friendly neighborhood doctor is moderating a panel about the role of Twitter in enhanced television at the TVOT conference in June, I decided to investigate.  

I spoke to Larry Taymor, managing director of Ex Machina USA.

iTV Doctor: Larry, when you were on my panel at the 2012 TVOT NYC conference, Ex Machina looked primarily like a second-screen solution provider that used "gamification" as a tool to create engagement. Why did you decide to get into Twitter?

Larry Taymor: We always believed in the power Twitter had as a conversational second screen. But the conversations on Twitter often are chaotic and the feedback unstructured. Our focus has been enabling huge-scale, real-time, program-specific interactivity: experiences that create structured feedback for viewers. When Twitter announced their Cards functionality, we realized we could offer our great experience within a tweet, creating an instant interactive moment. Instead of asking people to download an app, we offer the same functionality within the platform viewers are already using as a second screen: Twitter

iTV Doctor: OK, a lot of television networks are using Twitter Cards. Most of them just sit there like pretty pictures. Some are links to a Web site, a Twitter fan page or a Facebook fan page. And now and again somebody plugs in the "Player Card" that allows a video to play with one click. How is your solution different?

Larry Taymor: Most of the Twitter Cards are used to enrich the tweet by adding additional content, but it's one-way communication. Our solution creates a two-way communication, allowing viewers to really engage and interact with the program.

Viewers can rate, predict, vote, answer questions and compete in real time. They get results instantly in the same card. We call it InstantPlay.

iTV Doctor: How does your solution stay in sync with the program?

Larry Taymor: Using our proprietary backend and content management system (CMS), producers can send out a series of Twitter cards linked to key events in a show. Each card can stay active as long as makes sense. Our creative team can assist with design and execution if desired.

iTV Doctor: Who sends out your InstantPlay cards? How easy is it to manage?

Larry Taymor: Program producers can create and send cards from our CMS--for taped or live shows. They can send tweets out under any authorized account they have access to: judges, stars, sponsor, official account, and more. Retweets work as well, so that compelling interactivity will spread rapidly across the Twitter universe.  

iTV Doctor: How do you differ from companies in the space, like Mass Relevance and Echo.

Larry Taymor: These companies do a great job with curation and analysis. They've offered polling and voting in a limited fashion, typically for inclusion in another app or Web site. We have a completely different experience: a wide range of customizable, graphical, live interactions all in the Twitter stream. We have powerful tools to easily create, schedule, and send these experiences. Users get real-time feedback in the same Twitter card. And we have a unique success track record supporting the massive data flows that interactive experiences around hit TV shows can generate in real time. During peak promotional segments, we process more data per second than Twitter.

iTV Doctor: The folks on the television network side of the business are creating an ungodly number of different apps for every show they want to enhance--one for each second-screen platform, each mobile device, each browser, each smart-TV platform. It's mind-bending and budget-busting. Admittedly Twitter has a larger potential audience than all those other platforms combined, but why should a network start using the InstantPlay card now?

Larry Taymor: Our solution allows them to offer the same functionality they're currently putting in all those different apps directly within the platform their viewers already are using. As the service is HTML5 based, it can also easily be integrated into other online platforms the broadcaster is distributing. This is a write-once, use-everywhere solution.

When a program producer creates an interactive event in the CMS, they can send it out as a Twitter card or send it anywhere else that has linked to our HTML5 service.

iTV Doctor: What if I'm using a second-screen app like Viggle or zeebox? Will your InstantPlay cards work in their curated Twitter feed?

Larry Taymor: Not at the present time, as the Twitter Cards functionality is limited to the Twitter site on desktop and mobile, embedded tweets and embedded lists, Twitter for iOS and Twitter for Android. One of the reasons Twitter is restricting its API's is the fact they want to make sure the Twitter experience is coherent within all Twitter clients.

iTV Doctor: Is there anything the network can't do with InstantPlay?

Larry Taymor: Twitter, of course, has rules that you have to stick to. For instance, you can't require users to sign-in to your experience, or share to other social networks inside the card. But nothing that prevents them from creating great interactive experiences within Twitter.

iTV Doctor: What does Twitter think about all this?

Larry Taymor: Twitter enables the URL of Player Cards on a whitelist basis, to protect the integrity of the stream. Networks are not likely to have any problems with Twitter.  

iTV Doctor: What else do you supply to help networks and others get started with this?

Larry Taymor: We have a unique backend that can process the huge volume that will be generated in real time. We can update a user's card in a second, and we have a CMS that can schedule, format, and send all cards at exactly the right time, from the right account. We can provide structured, aggregated data feeds so you can create on-TV visual feedback. And we have a proven creative and business strategy team that can help design and execute experiences to maximize engagement and revenue potential.  

iTV Doctor: When will we be able to see InstantPlay?

Larry Taymor: We'll demo InstantPlay at the TVOT show in June.



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