News

Comcast and NBCU Place TV-App Bets

9/28/2012 6:05 PM Eastern

Could this be the one TV app to rule them all?

That’s the hope of U.K.-based startup Zeebox, which launched last week in the States with big helping hands from investors Comcast and NBCUniversal and partner HBO.

The Zeebox app lets users enter the name of the show or channel they’re watching TV and then delivers enhanced and related content culled from the Web, provided by TV programmers, social networks and advertisers. The free-to-download app, available for Apple devices, Android smartphones and the Web, also includes e-commerce features. It does not provide automatic-content recognition and doesn’t currently work with DVR content.

“We’ve built a universal application that works across content and across providers,” Zeebox co-founder and CEO Ernesto Schmitt said. The startup expects to announce additional U.S. network and pay TV partners by year-end.

Comcast and NBCU have each taken separate equity stakes in Zeebox; the amounts of their investments were not disclosed. Other investors include BSkyB in the U.K.

This fall, NBCU is adding tags to provide enhanced content through the Zeebox app across a total of 307 shows on cable and broadcast networks, according to Page Thompson, NBCU’s executive vice president of strategic integration.

“That scope and scale has never happened in the second-screen space before,” Thompson said.

NBCU and Comcast also will promote Zeebox with TV ads. Starting in mid-October, NBCU will run advertising for the app on all of its networks, and Comcast will insert ads on more than 30 networks where it sells local advertising. By the end of the year, Comcast plans to integrate the ability to change the channels from within the Zeebox app.

Since launching in the U.K. last October, Zeebox has signed up 1.5 million users, who use the app an average of 27 times per month, according to Schmitt.

Others in the crowded second-screen space include ConnecTV, Dijit, GetGlue, Miso, Peel, Shazam Entertainment, TV Guide Digital, Viggle and Yahoo’s IntoNow.

But Zeebox stands out as providing an unrivaled experience that truly makes watching TV more fun and interesting, NBCU’s Thompson said: “We decided to look at all the second-screen apps in all the world — and we decided that Zeebox has the best platform.”

Zeebox does not sell any advertising itself. Instead, its network partners work with agencies and advertisers to sell secondscreen ads, and Zeebox takes a cut.

Madison Avenue has taken notice and is eager to better exploit the second-screen opportunity to synchronize their TV spots with mobile devices, according to Tracey Scheppach, executive vice president and innovations director at ad agency Starcom MediaVest. “It’s an experience users will engage with,” she said of Zeebox. “It basically reconnects with what users are doing on their own.”

In the U.S., Zeebox will initially tag shows on about 150 channels nationwide and local programming in five large designated market areas (DMAs).

AT A GLANCE: ZEEBOX

Description: Companion app for live TV viewing that delivers enhanced interactive content and advertising

Funding: $6 million initial round; investment by BSkyB taking 10% stake; undisclosed funding from Comcast and NBCUniversal

Key executives: CEO and co-founder Ernesto Schmitt ; CTO and co-founder Anthony Rose; Jason Forbes, EVP and GM for U.S.

Employees: 80 in London (headquarters), New York and Sydney

Source: Multichannel News research

September