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Interactive TV
Finally, something worth watching

by Sam McMillan

In a scene from The Other Guys, meta-bubbles identify the watch Will Ferrell wears, the car he drives, the song he’s listening to on the radio, even names of products he mentions in dialogue. Watch video with meta-bubbles turned on, and props become products—a paradigm shift that will utterly transform the $27 billion product placement business. By allowing content creators to add unique events in the video timeline, such as the opportunity to interact with a scene, pause the onscreen action while ordering an item, and then return to the scene, RCDb opens new avenues for product advertising and enables direct, seamless, almost frictionless commerce. In other words, next time you’re watching Mad Men and see Don Draper in a Brooks Brothers suit, don’t be surprised if there’s a 20 percent off coupon a remote-button-click away.

Anyone with a teenager in the household knows it is entirely possible to watch TV and simultaneously check in with Facebook, e-mail and the Internet on a laptop, smartphone or tablet. As Katz explains, “We see more and more people using an iPad or tablet while they watch TV. They are comfortable using apps that not only control what they watch on TV but provide new ways to interact with what they’re watching.”

Interactive Wall Street 2 movie trailer designed by 20th Century Fox, developed by Coincident TV.

For example, RCDb’s “WatchWith” app for the iPad can add a layer of contextual engagement to what’s playing on the big screen. In partnership with eBay they’re taking this idea to the next level: WatchWith eBay. Using the built-in microphone on the iPad, the WatchWith app listens to the audio stream in a TV show, detects the audio “fingerprint” of the show, then displays content synched on the iPad. In the hands of a savvy production department, that means every single prop, item of jewelry, accessory and piece of clothing worn by an actor on screen can potentially be purchased on eBay with a button click. Put simply, let’s say you're watching a rerun of Friends, you think: “Jennifer Aniston looks pretty good in that sweater.” You tap the iPad, and next thing you know, the sweater in just your size is shipped to your home. The hardest decision you’ll have to make is choosing air or ground freight.

“Frame-level metadata is instrumental in driving t-commerce.” Katz explains. Programmers, producers, studios and content owners will get involved, and get involved early. “A new revenue stream can be created by the show producer that lives alongside, not outside the show. This will be too important to be left to the marketing department—it’s a whole new way to monetize content,” Katz says.

At Coincident TV, John Gilles is trying to help advertisers solve a fundamental problem of interactive advertising. “They’re trading analog dollars for digital dimes, to paraphrase NBC Universal honcho Jeff Zucker,” Gilles says. Gilles, the executive VP of marketing and sales at Coincident TV, explains that each hour of broadcast television is accompanied typically by 32 revenue-generating ads. On the Web, that drops to ten or twelve per hour. “It’s one third of the inventory. And therefore ad revenues for video on the Web are smaller,” Gilles notes.

Coincident TV believes it has figured out a way to rebuild the ad revenue online by getting people to watch longer. The Coincident TV offering called CTV consists of four elements: First is a time-based XML declarative language. Second is an easy-to-use CTV editor that enables people with minimal training to create new video experiences. Third is a portable player that enables video consumption on just about any digital device screen. And fourth is an analytics and measurement package that provides detailed numbers on the user behavior of millions of users per week.

Fandango Moview on Samsung SMART TV (left). Geoff Katz, executive producer/UX designer; Jane Grouix, visual designer; Indra Kumaran, Fandango, product manager; RCDb, project design and development. The Samsung Media Planner (right) is a premium television project that allows exploration and organization of television and personal media content via a touchscreen interface. Method Inc. established the interface architecture, features and functionality, and visual design for the Samsung Media Player, which was launched to the UK market in 2010. Developed by Method Inc.for Samsung Design Europe.

Right now it’s possible to watch an episode of Glee on Hulu. While that’s great for Hulu (and for consumers), it’s not so good for Fox, which loses viewers and ad revenues to Hulu. To recapture that lost revenue, Coincident TV created the Glee Superfan experience, with a player embedded on the Glee Facebook fan page. There the fifteen million Glee Facebook fans can watch episodes of Glee including a picture-in-picture experience that maintains video continuity while providing additional modes of interaction including behind-the-scenes bonus videos, cast and character bios, discussion forums, a Glee Photobooth, as well as social networking sharing via Facebook and Twitter. Hotspots embedded in the video frame enable viewers to buy a song performed on Glee on iTunes.

The metrics point to some compelling conclusions. In just one week, Coincident TV’s Glee app created one million superfans. And Gilles notes, viewers are watching CTV twice as long as typical video on the Web. Thanks to picture-in-picture presentations they are consuming twice as many ads. Completion rates of a linear Web video hover at 60 percent. Coincident is able to raise that to a 72 percent or greater completion rate. “For the producers of Glee that’s millions of hours of additional engagement,” Gilles says.

Gilles believes that “by 2015, 15 billion devices will be able to watch 500 billion hours of content.” That’s basically every screen, everywhere. Speaking of screens, several stock analysts who follow Apple predict that company’s entry into interactive TV sometime in the next twelve months with a 46" HDTV set sporting sixteen speakers and a single cable. The result, analysts predict, could potentially add $100 billion to Apple’s market cap. With Apple taking out patent applications for enhanced TV widgets, an app that can transform an iPhone into a “soft remote” and a slick HDTV in the offing, the future of TV will be here before you know it. CA McMillan
Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at