Back in December 2010 I spoke with Anthony Rose the day before his departure from the BBC. Less than a year later Rose is preparing to launch his latest venture: Zeebox, which has attracted $7m in funding. He gave last week’s Informa IP Cable World Summit a heads-up on what Zeebox would be bringing to the market.
Zeebox is a free application which (eventually) will reside on tablets, smartphones or PCs. The iPad version launches in early November. Zeebox is a TV guide for the social network age. It allows users to see what their friends are watching at any given moment, and switch to that programme instantly on the TV set by selecting an option in the application on the personal device. People can also get real-time statistics on what is being watched, which shows are most popular, and chat in real time about live shows.
Part of the magic is in the application’s ability to tell the personal device, via the DLNA-enabled home network, to switch HDMI inputs on the connected TV if required, and then to select the appropriate channel and programme seamlessly from within the application. The service also works with DLNA-enabled set-top boxes, although these are not as commonplace just yet.
The Zeebox service also incorporates metadata and content recognition technologies which allow the app to understand what is being watched on the big screen at any given moment, and to incorporate relevant material on the personal device. Zeebox hopes to patent this technology: content recognition is a hot area being pursued by a number of emerging players such as Civolution.
Zeebox is initially aimed at the Europe-centric free (ad-funded and public service) TV market, so Amercians might think it has little relevance in that market. Its functionalities are dependent on open standards and APIs, and on the presence of DLNA in connected devices. Specifically Rose claims that the first implementations will be compatible with Samsung, Sony, LG and Panasonic 2011, and some 2010, TV models.
Rose claims that pay TV operators need not be left out of the opportunity: they could enable their devices with DLNA, and they could use Zeebox to drive viewers towards pay services. It was clear from Rose’s answer, however, that this is very much a secondary objective in the early stages.
So one of the key questions for Zeebox is how many people are actually using the connected TVs on which the success of his service greatly depends. Well, according to our own research released this week (to which Rose was kind enough to refer in his speech), 10% of European homes are accessing video content via the internet on their TV screens. But only 3% are using a connected TV: the remainder are using games consoles, PCs via HDMI and various other solutions.
This is sure to change as this emerging market rapidly evolves; but it may be a stretch to assume, as Zeebox appears to, that connected TV users are actually connecting their TV set, strange as that may seem. So Zeebox could end up playing a key role in the all-important customer education process which needs to take place before its full market potential can be reached.
Client Reading: Multiscreen Connected TV: Assessing Device Usage and Ownership