Viacom Reaches Into Zeebox


Viacom has signed on as a strategic partner with British startup Zeebox, joining Comcast, NBCUniversal and HBO in tapping the second-screen app to deliver enhanced content and ads synchronized with its cable shows on TV.

The Zeebox app, which debuted in the U.S. last Thursday, lets users indicate which live TV programming they’re watching and then delivers related content in real time, provided by TV programmers and advertisers as well as culled from the Web and social networks. The free-to-download app, available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android smartphones and the Web, also enables e-commerce features.

Like Comcast and NBCU, Viacom will  support Zeebox with promotional commitments. Comcast and NBCU have each taken separate equity stakes in Zeebox; the amount of their investments was not disclosed. Other investors include BSkyB in the U.K.

“Viacom has the most socially engaged audiences anywhere, and we’re constantly striving to give our fans new ways to discover and connect with our content,” Viacom Media Networks chief operating officer Rich Eigendorff said in a statement. “Zeebox is a powerful new platform to create even richer and more interactive experiences around our programming, and build an even deeper connection between our brands and our fans.”

In the U.S., Zeebox initially syncs with programming on about 150 channels nationwide and local programming in five large designated market areas (DMAs). According to the company, that will cover 97% of U.S. TV viewership.

Zeebox does not sell any advertising itself; instead, its network partners work with agencies and advertisers to sell second-screen ads and Zeebox takes a cut. For now, the Zeebox app works only with live TV -- not DVR content. The app identifies live TV programming using a combination of video fingerprinting, audio content recognition and closed-captioning information.

For its part, NBCU has said it will add tags to provide enhanced content through the Zeebox app across a total of 307 shows, including 165 shows across 14 national networks. Starting in mid-October, NBCU will run ads for the app on every NBCU network, and Comcast will insert ads on more than 30 networks where it sells local advertising. Comcast before the end of the year plans to integrate the ability to change the channels from within the Zeebox app.

Zeebox’s OpenBox application programming interface lets TV networks add content and ads for their shows on the app “in a matter of hours,” the startup claims.

London-based Zeebox was founded in 2011 by CEO Ernesto Schmitt, a former EMI executive, and chief technology officer Anthony Rose, previously CTO of the BBC’s iPlayer group. The U.S. operations of Zeebox are headed by executive vice president and general manager Jason Forbes, who was previously Time Warner Cable Media's senior vice president of strategy for new products and marketing. 

The Zeebox app launched in the U.K. in October 2011,  and now has more than 1.5 million registered users. Following last week’s U.S. debut, the company expects to introduce a version in Australia next.

The Zeebox app is available free to download from Apple’s iTunes App Store and at Google Play for Android phones. The Web version is available at