Smart TV Sets: Cognitive’s Conscious Path to ITV


As a veteran of the cable industry, Michael Collette is keenly aware that getting interactive services and applications deployed on cable set-tops is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of work, time, and patience, and even a dose of luck. And even that mixture does not guarantee success.

So, thankfully for him, slipping past the hardened cable set-top blockade isn’t the path of choice for Collette’s new startup, Cognitive Networks, which is pitching a cloud-based platform that relies on audio content recognition technology to help programmers and advertisers deliver interactive features that sync up with shows, movies and ads being delivered to the TV. That can be anything from a poll or a quiz tied to a show, a tune-in reminder or an electronic coupon that offers $10 off a large pie from a local pizzeria.

Rather than integrating with set-tops, Cognitive’s “Engage” system uses client software that can be embedded inside “smart” TVs and serve as an always-on application that doesn’t have to be turned on manually, like most companion second-screen ITV apps.

And it’s already got its first taker — LG Electronics, which is using Cognitive as a key component for LivePlus, an interactive TV platform that runs in its 2012 models and will be included in the 2013 IPconnected sets. The LG-Cognitive combo is what’s running “SHO Sync,” an interactive app from Showtime Networks that syncs up with originals such as Homeland and Ray Donovan.

Cognitive is making plans to conduct demos with two more TV manufacturers at next January’s International CES, Collette said.

That’s a good beginning for a startup, but TV makers have not yet widely adopted ACR, the audio- fingerprinting technology that is central to Cognitive’s system. Collette said he is confident that the top six TV manufacturers will support ACR next year in new models and will also add the feature to some older models by implementing firmware upgrades.

Cognitive has held talks with pay TV operators, but has no plans to veer from its smart-TV market entry strategy, seeing it as the easiest path to success.

“Cable, historically, has been somewhat protective of their relationship with the subscriber,” said Collette. And that view comes from industry experience. He’s the former CEO of PhyFlex Networks (now part of Ciena), ex-CEO of Ucentric Systems (sold to Motorola in 2005), and a one-time exec of ICTV (since renamed ActiveVideo Networks). “That [protective stance] constrains what can be done. TV manufacturers don’t have subscribers.”

San Francisco-based Cognitive was founded in 2008 and has 12 full-time employees. The company, which counts Flingo among its competitors, has raised about $6 million, including $2.5 million that came way of the venture-capital arm of Rogers Communications.

Cognitive currently has 10 paying customers, and expects to expand that to 30 to 40 by the end of the year, according to Collette .


Startup Cognitive Networks is using audio technology to help programmers sync interactive features with their content.

5 The number of video apps added last week to an increasingly cable-friendly Apple TV lineup. New to the mix are Watch Disney and Watch Disney XD (initially available to Comcast, Cablevision Systems, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Midcontinent Communications, AT&T U-verse TV and Verizon Communications FiOS TV subscribers), The Smithsonian Channel (on-demand clips), Vevo (music videos), and The Weather Channel (clips to start). Disney is also developing a Watch Disney Junior app for the Apple TV platform, but has not announced a launch date.

SOURCE:Multichannel News research