The iTV Doctor Is In: Superheroes of the Second Screen--Chapter 1: zeebox

Dear Readers:

We've been watching with interest the developments in the second-screen space. Consolidation and re-invention have generated the most headlines in 2013; growth and revenue somewhat less so. It's a tough space, and I dare say that all the second-screen providers are consulting their Ouija boards to map out the next few years.

At the TVOT conference in New York on December 11th, we will have a chance to "compare and contrast" the leaders in the space. This will be the first time so many of the top second-screen providers have appeared on a panel together, and we expect an SRO crowd for these Superheroes of the Second Screen:

Jason Forbes, EVP/General Manager, zeebox USA
Greg Consiglio, President and COO, Viggle
Kevin McGurn, Chief Revenue Officer, Shazam
Stacy Jolna, Chief Marketing Officer, ConnecTV
Brad Pelo, CEO, i.TV/GetGlue
Carlos Diaz, CEO, Kwarter

With commentary from Mick Darling, CEO, Tomorrowish (Special Agent Provocateur).

And now we'll pause for a brief commercial message. Get your TVOT tickets here: http://tvotnyc2013.eventbrite.com

One of the second-screen providers we've all watched with great interest is zeebox. After their successful launch in the UK, the Lads from London made their way across the pond for a carefully plotted British invasion. Blockbuster deals with Comcast/NBCUniversal, HBO and MTV provided both the traction and leverage required for a fast start, and they haven't slowed down. I had a chance to catch up with zeebox founder and CTO Anthony Rose the other day, when he took a BRIEF pause from running full speed ahead.

Confidential note: When zeebox was just getting started in the States, I played around with their earliest releases. Folks in the space know I can basically break ANY software, mostly because I act like a consumer: if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do RIGHT NOW, I just start pushing buttons! I would ping Anthony (he's in London) during prime time here on the East Coast and he would answer...at about 3:00AM in London. So basically Anthony Rose never sleeps!

iTV Doctor: Anthony, thanks for spending some time with us. To get started, please tell us where zeebox is globally. You started in the UK, then came to the US, and recently over to Australia. Why those markets, why that timing and where are you going next?

Anthony Rose: We conceived of and launched zeebox in the UK because, well, that's where we live. Clearly the US is the key market to be in, so we set out to launch there next. And, well, the combination of my being an Aussie and a great partnership opportunity had us launch in Australia next. Launching a full-featured TV app that integrates with local program listings, offers remote control of local TV's and set-top boxes, and integrates with broadcaster systems turns out to be a great deal of per-country work. And so, since then we decided to hold on launching in additional territories to allow us to focus on our core product. But we continue to get very strong inbound interest from partners in multiple territories, and so you might expect to see zeebox in additional countries in the not-too-distant future.

iTV Doctor: I tend to be an app guy. I like playing with the toys. You have zeetags and a few other innovative features on the platform. Tell us about them.

Anthony Rose: And oh do we have toys for you! You can use zeebox as a remote control for your Comcast Xfinity set top box. We use automatic content recognition (ACR) to bring you experiences synched to the show you're watching on TV. zeebox will even automatically replay the tweets that were made during the original broadcast of the show, so no matter if you're watching on the West Coast or watching a show you've recorded, we'll bring you no-spoiler tweets and playalong experiences synched to the first live airing. The zeebox servers ingest 300+ TV channels across the US, the UK and Australia and use real-time closed caption extraction and natural language processing to create a dynamic feed of information (zeetags) related to the show you're watching. So, lots of technology for gadgeteers!

These are all utility features, and they're brilliant for those using zeebox as a TV guide, remote control or wanting to sync with live and PVR'd shows. But actually there are many different audiences for zeebox, and while these features might do it for you as a gadgeteer, the average "Real Housewives" fan is a lot more interested in one of the Housewives making a guest appearance in our TV Rooms. And so we're trying hard to create a product that provides utility for those who want that, but which is also a vibrant experience for playing along to your favorite TV reality show and chatting with fans and celebrities.

iTV Doctor: One of the problems in this space is that the best app designers aren't actually TV people; most don't subscribe to a cable or satellite service, and some don't even have a TV set. Who are your designers, and what is the process for developing new consumer features?

Anthony Rose: That's a really great question--what do you do when your software developer team (geeky male developers) may not be the audience for your own product? And that's something that's been concerning me since I stood up at a social media conference two years ago and a grey-haired telco executive said he never used Twitter, and he didn't think people would tweet in front of the TV. Was he right? Were we building something for an imaginary audience? The good news is that we now have the answer: There isn't one audience, there are lots of
audiences. And our middle-aged white male media executive had neatly classified himself as, well, take a look at the chart below and figure out where you fit:

So the way we work is that ideas are tested on users first. Real users. We go out and find people who love TV--soaps, drama, sport, reality shows. Different audiences look for different things. "TV mavens" love TV but don't want to talk about it. "Social watchers" want to talk about it with their friends. "Pop idols" love the big shows like "The Voice" and want to talk about it with other fans of the show. And "gadgeteers," well, maybe they're too busy setting up their Chromecast device to actually watch TV. But that's okay, we know which features they'll use and which they won't.

iTV Doctor: Where can we find zeebox now? iPhone? iPad? Android? Connected TV's?

Anthony Rose: We're on iOS and Android phones and tablets. We're integrated with Vizrt and other graphics playout systems. And we're working on integrating with other devices I can't talk about right now, but which you may see announcements for in the not-too-distant future.

iTV Doctor: I see a major push coming for zeebox API's, and at the TVOT NYC Hackathon, participants will be using them. Tell us about the process of monetizing your API's. You're a nice guy, but I'm reasonably sure you're not releasing your API's out of the goodness of your heart.

Anthony Rose: Great question. Our API's are used by partners such as Sky and others to build zeebox functionality into their apps. We're also making zeebox features available as responsive HTML modules to embed in third-party sites. We call it zeebox Unboxed, and it seems to have really resonated with broadcasters and program makers who can now embed zeebox TV Rooms, synched experiences, feeds and more in their Web and mobile sites. Those same experiences are available in zeebox. For broadcasters, it solves the problem of directing people away from their
sites. You'll see zeebox Unboxed experiences on Discovery.com, Fox.com and many other sites. And finally, we have openbox plugins, which allow developers to create HTML experiences that are distributed within zeebox, and which can tap into the full zeebox platform.

The good news is that there's a monetization plan around this, and our SpotSynch ad-delivery service is a big part of that, allowing broadcasters to sell TV and synched second-screen ads which appear in any of the syndicated zeebox experiences.

We're delighted to be sharing our API's and real-time program and social data at hackathons and working with developers to use our platform to power the crazy and wonderful things they may have been dreaming about, but which needed some of the backend heavy lifting that takes major investment to create. With our developer program we're happy to plant seeds, knowing that from those seeds things will grow. And that developer engagement neatly complements and feeds into our enterprise program.

iTV Doctor: So what's on the horizon for zeebox? What does YOUR Ouija board tell you?

Anthony Rose: We hope to have exciting developments to talk about at TVOT, so I really should keep the tinder dry until then.

iTV Doctor: We'll see you at TVOT on December 11th.

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The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The 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 TheiTVDoctor@gmail.com

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