“The problem was that no one wanted to type in the bar they were at,” Adam Cahan told us when we met with him last week to see his latest venture, IntoNow. He wasn’t talking about his startup. Instead, he was talking about Dodgeball, the location-based service that came well before Foursquare. That is, he was describing why Foursquare took off while Dodgeball didn’t, even though they had the same basic concept. GPS being built-in to smartphones changed everything, he said. “Now our industry is in the same place. We’re the GPS layer.”
What industry is that? So so-called media check-in space. (Though don’t use the word “check-in” around Cahan, he hates it.) More specifically, IntoNow is trying to own the tv engagement app space. And while competitors like GetGlue, Miso, TunerFish and others all beat IntoNow to market, they have a secret weapon: it’s called SoundPrint.
Just like GPS with location services, SoundPrint, a new technology created by IntoNow, allows you to automatically “check-in” to watching a show simply by hitting a button in the IntoNow app. How? It reads the sound waves and patterns of each television show (and a growing collection of movies as well) and matches it with a database they keep. Yep, it’s a lot like Soundhound or Shazam, but for video content.
And it’s amazing how well it works.
When I first got a demo from Cahan and co-founders Didier Hilhorst and Rob Johnson, I was amazed to the point where I was dumbfounded. You see, the first thing they demoed the app on was a live broadcast of a CNN show featuring Hillary Clinton talking. Within seconds, IntoNow picked up the exact name of the show. I wasn’t sure how this was possible since the same Clinton sound clip could be playing on a number of different shows. But there are a few keys to how SoundPrint works (most of which the team won’t go into since it’s their patented technology) — one key is to scan all live channels and bring in their audio footprint in realtime.
IntoNow knew the CNN show I was watching because their backend was also watching it. It was just a matter of lining up the audio. Which again, it did, in seconds.
But IntoNow works for much more than live TV. Their content catalog currently includes some 140 million minutes of broadcast TV. That’s roughly 266 years worth of video. And it’s growing more with each passing second. They’re monitoring 130 broadcast channels in realtime, 24 hours a day — all of which is stored and saved.
After a few more demos, I was mostly sold. But, of course, there’s always the possibility that a sneaky startup could try to get things perfectly aligned for a demo. I’m not suggesting anyone would stage something, but there could be ideal conditions (and/or shows) set up. So I took the app home to try it out for myself. It worked even better there.
I put on one show, hit the button on the IntoNow app, boom: 4 seconds later, it got it. I flipped the channel, same result. I tried it with a show I had DVR’d. Worked like a charm. I tried it with an older movie I was watching on Netflix. Perfect. I tried it with a live sporting event. Yep, it even worked with that.
Okay, so IntoNow has clearly built some impressive technology. But why enter this space? Because 62 percent of leisure time is spent watching TV. It’s the biggest single activity that people do after working and sleeping, Cahan says. And when they’re watching, increasingly, they’re interacting with the Internet in some way. Currently, much of that is surfing the web on a laptop or mobile device. So IntoNow set out to make a “companion experience” for TV and movie watching.
Once you “check-in” to whatever you’re watching, that info is sent out to your IntoNow social graph (and you have the option to share on Facebook or Twitter). From here, within the app, you can see what your friends are watching. And comment on any of those shows. You can also see what shows are popular at any given time. And there’s a way to discover new shows that will be based on your social and interest graphs.
The app also has indicators to let you know if a piece of content is currently airing. So if I see a friend is watching a certain episode of a show, I can see that it’s currently on live TV and I could flip over to it. Or, if it’s on Netflix, there will be a link to get to it from within the app.
So, what are the downsides? Well, first of all, IntoNow is iPhone-only for the time being. But the team says that Android support will be coming shortly. Secondly, due to some licensing and/or legal issues, they don’t have a big collection of newer films. This includes not only movies still in theaters, but also those just released on DVD. Again, the technology is based around what has been shown on television before, so newer stuff won’t be there, and they’re not indexing pay-per-view. When I joked that they could send a team into theaters to record the sound of new films, Cahan did assure me that they’re thinking about ways to expand their content reach.
But again, they already have 140 million minutes worth of content. And everything I watched, IntoNow found.
In terms of how they monetize this idea, there are a number of possibilities. They could team up with some consumer electronic makers to build their system directly into hardware. Or they could do some potentially interesting stuff with the viewing data to disrupt something like Nielsen. They’ve also already built in a way for SoundPrint to detect commercials. So when it does, there’s a lot of potential there in terms of what IntoNow could do with advertisers within the app. “We’re also into this because we think there’s big business behind this,” Cahan says.
Not surprisingly, IntoNow has already received funding from Greylock Ventures and Redpoint Ventures — though they won’t disclose how much. Also not surprising is that those are two of the backers of Auditude, the video monetization startup which just raised a new round of funding and saw Cahan transition out as CEO earlier this month. A few of the IntoNow team members had been working there when they decided to spin this project off (though Auditude owns no part of IntoNow). The IntoNow team members also include veterans of Google, Microsoft, IDEO, MTV, and Stanford’s AI program.
As was the case with me, seeing is believing with IntoNow. So download the app and try it out yourselves.