Zeebox Preps For The US Launch Of Its Social TV App, With A Little Help From Comcast

U.K.-based social TV startup Zeebox is getting ready for a U.S. launch, and when it does, it will be doing so with a big partner. Sources say the company is on the verge of announcing a partnership with Comcast ahead of its U.S. launch, which will also likely include a strategic investment from the cable provider. But it probably won’t be alone, as Zeebox’s CEO said in an emailed statement today that the startup will have a range of partners at launch.

Zeebox launched its social TV app in the U.K. late last year, providing a new way for TV viewers to find and discover content. The startup, which was founded by former CTO of the BBC iPlayer Anthony Rose, provides a consumer-facing app that is designed to improve social discovery of TV shows, as well as provide detailed information about the cast and crew, as well as additional multimedia content.

Earlier this year it took some funding from U.K. satellite TV provider BSkyB, which in turn got a 10 percent stake in the second screen startup. As part of the deal, Sky partnered with Zeebox to integrate its social TV technologies into its own apps, and plans to sell sponsorship and product placement with its help.

Then in July, Zeebox did a similar deal with commercial broadcaster Network Ten, taking an investment and partnering with the Australian company to roll out its app in that market. Network Ten will also use Zeebox for promotion, and plans to integrate Zeebox tech into its own branded apps.

Zeebox’s US launch is imminent

Now, Zeebox is looking to bring its technology to the U.S. In June, I did a video interview with founder Anthony Rose, who showed off what the app is capable of. At the time he told me that Zeebox was looking to nail down partners for its introduction here, and that a launch would come at the end of summer.

Well, August is here, and it looks like Zeebox is on its way to U.S. homes, thanks to a partnership with Comcast. According to sources, Zeebox will soon announce a deal similar to its Sky and Network Ten partnerships, through which it will take an investment and also work to integrate its technology into existing apps from Comcast. With 20 million TV subscribers in the U.S., a Comcast partnership will give Zeebox an early foothold in the new market.

While most cable companies get a bad rap for not getting it when it comes to changing consumer behavior and multiplatform distribution, Comcast has been pretty aggressive in pushing forward with innovative new offerings online and on new devices. Along with Time Warner, Comcast spearheaded the cable industry’s TV Everywhere initiative, which is designed to bring more cable content online. It was also one of the first cable operators to launch an iPad app and make TV shows available on the tablet device. And it completely reimagined the way viewers find and discover TV shows with the launch of its cloud-based X1 set-top box. A deal with Zeebox would be an extension of its existing digital efforts. Comcast declined to comment on the partnership.

But Comcast won’t be alone, according to a statement from Zeebox cofounder and CEO Ernesto Schmitt:

“We are very much looking forward to our US launch, which I’m pleased to confirm is imminent. We will be working with a range of great US partners who all share a deep appreciation for our work, and a strong desire jointly to embrace the huge opportunity that is the second screen. We’ll be announcing details [of] our US partner lineup soon – stay tuned!”

Sources say that in addition to Comcast, Time Warner Cable has been working toward a Zeebox partnership as well, and could also emerge as a launch partner. Since both cable providers have their own local markets and generally don’t compete with one another, there wouldn’t be too much of a conflict if Zeebox were to do a deal with both. Time Warner Cable also been pushing through a number of digital efforts, including an iPad app that streams live TV channels within the home and connected TV apps for Samsung and Sony TVs. Time Warner Cable could not be reached for comment.

A bigger question is what a deal with a cable provider like Comcast would mean for its relationship with networks and programmers. Comcast already owns the electronic program guide through which users now discover their content, and a partnership with a company like Zeebox could only strengthen its discovery capabilities on the second screen. For networks that are launching their own second-screen apps, or looking to partner with the likes of GetGlue or others to boost viewership for their programming, a Comcast-Zeebox partnership could be troubling.

Anyway, check out my video interview with Rose below to see what Zeebox will look like when it launches here in the U.S.: