ZeeVee Recasts Zinc Video Browser for the Cloud—and for a New Generation of Internet-Connected TVs

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smartphones, set-top boxes, or any Internet-connected device.

Third, ZeeVee is local to Boston—and it must be a sign of something important that both of the leading providers of big-screen video browser technology are on the East Coast, far from the Hollywood and Silicon Valley establishments.

Fourth and finally, the company that attracts the most users to its PC-based video browser right now stands a pretty good chance of succeeding in a near-future world where such software is built directly into TVs, cable and satellite set-top boxes, and other Internet-connected video devices. So the loyalty of millions of viewers, and the revenues that loyalty could eventually help generate, is at stake.

From a user’s perspective, the Zinc Beta 5 release isn’t hugely different from previous versions. The software’s home screen still offers a pre-populated selection of video channels; Zinc says these channels contain more than 100,000 videos overall, including 60,000 TV show episodes and 20,000 movies. This is more or less the same content that’s available through Boxee and other services, since all of these companies have access to the same set of feeds from the major online video distributors like CBS, Fox, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, et cetera.

The Zinc interface does have a slick new design that makes it easier to browse shows. And there’s a nifty added feature that lets users add movies or TV episodes to their “queue” (a concept borrowed from Netflix), which makes it much easier to go shopping through the channels for shows you might like, then relocate and watch them later.

But the most important changes are under Zinc’s hood. Previous versions of Zinc were true client programs, storing personal data such as a list of the user’s favorites shows and the like on the user’s computer. Zinc Beta 5 stores all that information in the cloud, meaning Zinc’s servers. That means it’s accessible, in principle, from any device that might be running the Zinc interface.

And there’s already one example of such a device: ZeeVee has worked with Yahoo to create a “TV Widget” for Yahoo Connected TVs. (The startup timed today’s Zinc announcement to coincide with Yahoo’s own publicity push around the Connected TV platform at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.) If you own an HDTV with the Yahoo system—they’re currently manufactured by LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio—-you can obtain the Zinc widget from Yahoo’s widget gallery. Then you can use the widget to dive directly into the Zinc interface and all of its channels, without the need for a computer.

Thanks to the cloud architecture, the shows you added to your queue or your favorites from your PC are still there when you access the Zinc widget on your Yahoo Connected TV. “That’s a glimpse of where the future of all this will be,” says Odryna. “You can easily envision lots of other connected devices that could reach out to the central system and give you access to your Zinc account.”

Odryna says it’s a fairly simple matter to port the Zinc browser to any Internet-connected video device—many more of which will be announced at CES, including more Yahoo-like widget platforms for TVs. Hardware makers should like that, since it will let them build more video options into their devices. And content providers should like it too, since, in theory, they only have to make their video streams work with Zinc. They can then let ZeeVee worry about work with each of the device makers.

Zinc is a free download for Mac and Windows PC users, and it costs nothing to watch many of the videos in its channels (though some, such as the Netflix, Amazon, and NFL channels, connect to outside services that do require a subscription). So, at the moment, Zinc doesn’t produce any revenue for ZeeVee. But Odryna says there will be at least three ways for the company to make money on the technology in the future.

First, once Zinc is available on more devices, the company might charge a price for a premium version of the system that allows users to manage their video queues across multiple platforms such as smartphones and TVs. Second, it could charge hardware makers a licensing fee for … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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