New York-based startup Umami will jump into the "second screen" fray with the expected release in the next few weeks of an iPad app, free to consumers, that will serve up contextually relevant content for shows on 40 broadcast and cable networks.
"We're focused on delivering an awesome experience for consumers," Umami CEO Scott Rosenberg said. "We think the TV ecosystem will reward that."
Umami fingerprints the audio in TV content across the 40 networks using a large-scale digital video recorder system.
When a user fires up the app, it "listens" for which channel is currently on by comparing it to the Umami fingerprint database, then pulls up news, cast pages, episode guides and social media feeds from various sources in a flipbook-like format. The system works on DVR recordings, too.
The business model for the year-old firm is to land deals with TV networks and producers, to deliver ads and show-related material to avid fans. "We wanted to make publishing to our platform dirt simple," Rosenberg said. He claimed Umami already has several media partners lined up, though he declined to identify them.
Umami (pronounced "ooh-MA-mee") is a Japanese word that refers to a fifth taste of "savoriness." The idea: the app is like a flavor-enhancer for TV.
The company faces a slew of competitors, ranging from Nielsen -- whose MediaSync product uses audio watermarks for second-screen apps with live TV -- to Shazam Entertainment, Yahoo's IntoNow, Invidi Technologies and Spot411 Technologies. There's even another New York-based startup called SecondScreen Networks.
In addition, there are TV "check-in" apps from providers including GetGlue and Miso that let viewers share what they're watching on social networks and earn rewards for being avid fans.
Rosenberg sees his primary competitor as networks trying to build apps themselves, a proposition he notes is time-consuming and results in a show- or network-specific app that's a narrow slice of the entire TV viewing experience.
On the other hand, an app like MTV's WatchWith, which provides content synchronized with the networks' top primetime shows, could coexist with Umami. "We don't think those activities are mutually exclusive," he said.
The founders tout their experience in TV and new media. Rosenberg most recently served as vice president of advanced advertising at Rovi, and has worked at BlackArrow, Intel and ReplayTV. Umami chief technology officer Bryan Slavin has worked at broadband video ad firm Lightningcast (acquired by AOL), Leap Wireless and BroadSoft.
The startup formed in the summer of 2010 and this spring raised $1.65 million in seed funding from Battery Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and independent investors.