Showtime ‘Sync’ App Sidesteps the Set-Top

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NEW YORK — Showtime Networks and LG have developed a way to bring in-show interactivity to the big screen that avoids a historic stumbling block to the development and growth of interactive TV — integration with the set-top box.

The premium programmer’s “SHO Sync” app for LGmade TVs operates completely independently of the settop. Written in HTML5 and launched last Thursday (Aug. 15), the opt-in SHO Sync app is the first by a programmer to deliver ITV via LivePlus, a cloud-based system from LG that uses audio fingerprinting technology to load up and trigger the interactive elements, such as show-related polls and quizzes.

SHO Sync works whether a program is being viewed live, on-demand, off the digital video recorder or from a DVD.

Because the detection occurs in the background via the High Definition Multimedia Interface connection that delivers the programming itself, SHO Sync does not have to be integrated with the set-top’s software. That makes it agnostic to cable, satellite or IPTV service.

“The content detection is in the connection,” David Preisman, Showtime’s vice president of interactive television, explained during a briefing this week. “It solves a lot of problems.”

The catch, of course, is that this big-screen version of SHO Sync is available only on LG TVs that use LivePlus. For now, it’s limited to 2012 LG Smart TV models, but will be offered in LG’s new 2013 models. Showtime subs without those sets can partake in Showtime’s SHO Sync app for the iPad, which launched last fall.

The LG approach could serve as a blueprint for other programmers eager to bring ITV to the television screen. Other, yet-unnamed cable programmers are developing apps for LivePlus, Wendell Wenjen, director of advanced and interactive TV for LG’s Smart TV Innovation Team, said.

Showtime has SHO Sync-enabled two original series — Dexter and Ray Donovan — and is planning to do the same for Shameless, Nurse Jackie, Californication, Homeland and Masters of Sex, a series set to debut in September.

Preisman said Showtime typically creates 10 to 12 interactive SHO Sync elements per show, and strives to time their appearance to breaks in the on-screen action, so as not to disrupt the viewing experience.

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