Integra5 Wants to be MediaFriends With You
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people don’t pay as much attention to advertisements. Former Microsoft vice president Linda Stone (an Xconomist) has even warned that in large doses, “continuous partial attention,” as she calls the phenomenon, can lead to greater stress and “a compromised ability to reflect, to make decisions, and to think creatively.” But this may not be true for younger audiences—and Flynn-Ripley believes the social-media revolution presents video providers with a big new business opportunity.
“Interactive TV is something we’ve been talking about in this industry for a very long time, but the problem was the input device—no one wants another keyboard laying around their living room,” she says. “The mobile phone solves that. The switch to the MediaFriends name reflects the focus, in a much bigger way, on mobile and SMS, because that is creating new opportunities that are only possible now because you’ve got this SMS revolution going on.”
Clearly, many companies are experimenting with ways of tapping into the “social video” phenomenon. Last year, Google’s YouTube introduced a feature that allows users to add interactive speech bubbles to their uploaded videos. The Lycos Cinema platform, rolled out in 2008 Waltham, MA-based Lycos, lets groups of up to 10 people using different computers watch the same online rental movie and chat about it onscreen. And Facebook has partnered with CNN and MTV to allow Facebook users to post status updates while watching live TV streams—a service that has attracted hundreds of thousands of users during recent events such as President Obama’s inauguration and the Michael Jackson memorial service in Los Angeles.
But as Flynn-Ripley emphasizes, the MediaFriends TV chat system, which runs on software that operators download to consumers’ set-top boxes, is built around SMS text messaging rather than Web-based communication. While it makes a TV screen function much like a desktop or Web-based instant-messaging program, it leaves the Internet largely out of the loop.
MediaFriends users do have to go to a website first, where they set up buddy lists. But after that, they access the service from their TV using a standard remote control. They can send live-chat invitations to people on their buddy lists; if the invitees accept, their TVs are automatically tuned to the same channel (although this isn’t a requirement—Flynn-Ripley says one of the company’s “aha moments” came when engineers realized that teens like to chat even when they’re not watching the same program). The TV interface shows a phone number where users can send text messages, and every new message is displayed on the shared screen of every chat-room participant.
The system also allows users to watch on-demand or recorded videos together. Buddies who aren’t watching TV can participate in the conversations via instant messages from their PCs, although in that case won’t see the video.
“Basically,” says Flynn-Ripley, “we’re breaking down the barriers to messaging between mobile phones, PCs, and TV” —a new capability that may appeal most directly to so-called “triple-play” operators such as Comcast, Cox, or Verizon, who supply television, Internet, and voice services over the same data pipes. “From an operator standpoint, it’s a way to create a new level of stickiness, and differentiate your triple-play service,” she says. It also creates new revenue opportunities, as there’s space on the chat screens for advertisements.