Today, a company called ConnecTV is launching an ambitious new service for socializing the TV viewing experience using mobile and web-based applications. The new app, available first on the iPad, with Android tablet support in the works, is similar to competitor IntoNow in that it also seems to “hear” what’s on TV in order to load the appropriate content. But the way it’s processing the data on the backend is completely different. There’s no “Shazam-like” experience here – everything ConnecTV does is in real-time.
ConnecTV was founded a couple of years ago by the former TV Guide President Ian Aaron, the former founding head of technology at TiVo, Alan Moskowitz, and the original Chief Programming Officer at TiVo, Stacy Jolna. The proprietary technology underlying the service was developed over the course of the past two years, with no venture funding. Instead, the startup was self-funded and took in money from a few, undisclosed “high net worth” people. Partner broadcasters also made a small minority investment as a part of a long-term agreement. The company plans to raise capital through strategic investments going forward, but does not plan to raise funding from the venture community.
At launch, the service supports over 250 channels (compared with IntoNow’s 130) and has partnerships with 10 leading broadcast groups, including Barrington Broadcasting Group, Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media. These broadcast groups represent 45 of the top 50 markets in the U.S., Aaron tells us, which provides the service with access to most of the regional channels. ConnecTV also supports premium cable channels (Discovery, TLC, etc.) and paid channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.).
In addition, the company is planning to soon add support for over 200 local ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, The CW and MyNetworkTV affiliate channels as well as the top 26 regional sports networks. In fact, sports is a high priority for the service, which has plans to support all the major and college sports including baseball, basketball, football, Formula 1, NASCAR, tennis and more.
Another unique aspect to ConnecTV is its technology. Competitor IntoNow “hears” what’s on TV by listening to the show’s audio signal and matching it to the program using proprietary technology (Sound Print), then pulling relevant content from closed captioning systems. However, there’s a lag of 4 to 10 seconds involved as the signal is identified. Although ConnecTV also uses audio recognition technology, it’s tracking the audio in real time across all its supported channels.
“Most of the technologies built are not really designed for real-time use,” explains Aaron. With other technologies, “you have to hold [the device] up to something that was pre-processed, or was integrated through the production process, where you have to take the feed and process it before it airs on TV.”
“Everything we do is in real-time,” he says. What that means is that if you’re watching a game, two seconds after every play, you’re seeing all the stats on the play, you can share the play with your friends, you can chat about it and you can invite friends to watch with you. Using a combination of proprietary audio and video recognition technology, ConnecTV can also match up what it “hears” up to a day after airing. That window may expand in time.
In terms of the app’s social elements, ConnecTV isn’t all that different from other companion apps, not only IntoNow, but also the check-in based apps like GetGlue or Miso. You can see what your friends are watching, share your favorite TV moments with a touch or simply post what you’re viewing to Facebook and Twitter. As you change channels, you can also see the total number of your friends who “like” the show and invite those who are not watching to join you. Meanwhile, a “show chat” feature includes top fan Tweets and official Twitter feeds from players, leagues, cast members, producers and networks.
Its overall user interface, however, feels a little more spartan. Personal opinion: IntoNow is the more attractive app. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Update: Edited to clarify IntoNow’s usage of Sound Print & captioning