The TV Revolution Will Be in Slow-Mo, Says Flingo CEO

6/8/12Follow @wroush

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pulled all the discussion happening about that show on Twitter and Facebook. You can watch the conversation in passive mode, or could then push a check-in or comment back to Facebook.

It’s a second-screen experience. There’s no need to turn the TV itself into a computer when 60 or 70 percent of people already have a computer in their hands while they are watching TV.

WR: But there’s no Flingo app, right? The vision is that it would be makers of second-screen apps—whether they’re independent publishers or the broadcasters themselves—offering that synchronized experience. For example, a company like Dijit Media could use this to automatically synchronize their social TV app with what’s on TV.

AN: Exactly. There is an API that Dijit or GetGlue or Miso or any of these companion experiences could use to contextualize their applications. We want to be the GPS, not the aggregator. I think there are going to be multiple flavors of these companion apps out there. Some will appeal to sports fans, and others to movie watchers, and others to the networks themselves. CNN is going to want an app and probably wouldn’t be super excited about some other app running against their network. We want to stay at the technology layer and empower the ecosystem.

Flingo's Facebook and Twitter Integration

WR: How does Flingo earn revenue in this equation? Do you charge app makers or networks for a certain number of API calls?

AN: Right now the API is open and free, but I imagine we will have some parameters around that in the future. Right now the API returns the name of the show and the time stamp, so you know where you are in the show. But it can also expose the name of the advertiser during a commercial—and this is where the business model becomes a little more clear. Today, a TV ad buy is restricted to the primary screen, but imagine if you could synchronize that with an advertising experience across multiple screens. Then the value of an ad buy would go up. Even if you were time-shifting, the advertisers would still have the opportunity to be integrated with a show, through all these other access points that don’t disrupt the linear programming.

WR: You’ve mentioned being like the TV ecosystem’s equivalent of GPS. In the actual location world, that’s a role played by Skyhook Wireless, which has a giant database of WiFi access point locations, which they license to mobile companies so that handset users can discover where they are on a map. But now other companies like Google and Apple have come along and sampled WiFi network locations and built their own databases. What’s to stop someone from coming along from behind Flingo and creating their own database of video fingerprints?

AN: We believe the technology is hard, and we have filed for a lot of intellectual property protection. But what we have found is that pure technology companies are not as exciting as those that can build ecosystems. About half of our company is engineering, and the other half is doing nothing but ecosystem development, meaning working with chipset and TV manufacturers and TV networks to make sure they have the tools to influence the SyncApps experience. If there is a Twitter hashtag they need to be showing between minute 20 and minute 24, for example, they can do that easily with our Web-based content management system. Those are the kinds of things our partners will have, and that is not going to be something that will be easy for anyone to displace.

WR: What about the companies offering over-the-top Internet video experiences, like Google, Apple, Boxee, or Roku. If those players gain a lot more users, how does that affect Flingo?

AN: There are companies that think of broadcast TV as an app, and companies that think of broadcast TV as a platform. Google TV is a perfect example of those who think of it as an app. You’ll see thousands of apps on Google TV and broadcast is just one of them, and everything is search-driven. Other companies in that general mode of thinking are Netflix, Roku, and Apple. They are going to keep marching down that path, because they are trying to displace the Comcasts of the world with something else.

Then there is the broadcast-as-platform group. We fit into that camp. We are saying that out of the 1,000 things in the Google interface, there is only one that people actually use, and it’s the HDMI cable-in, meaning traditional broadcast TV. So let’s unclutter and improve the broadcast experience. Other companies in this general bucket are companies like Sling and TiVo that allow place-shifting or time-shifting. We’re saying, let’s make it more social and enhance broadcasting rather than revolutionizing it.

WR: Even though you’re trying not to sound too revolutionary, I’m guessing that some networks and studios are a lot slower to warm up to your technology than others.

AN: There are two types of media companies. There are the ones that get really excited about standards and new technologies and ways to influence early adopters. And there are others who can’t be bothered to look at the newfangled stuff and will wait until it is baked to jump in. For years, I was the guy who convinced Hollywood to embrace BitTorrent and connected TVs, so I have a pretty good handle on which networks fall into the first camp and which ones we can bring into Phase Two—which ones will say “Come back when there are 30 million of these things out there and it will influence my Nielsen ratings” and which ones will say “Holy shit, this could influence my Nielsen ratings and I need to be involved from Day One.” We like those companies and want them involved.

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

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  • Phillip P

    “We have 50 percent DVR penetration in this country, but 85 percent of TV watching is still live,” says Navin, who is Flingo’s CEO. “The behavior is built in. People aren’t voting with their feet.”

    People are voting with their feet, they want to watch live TV. The market doesn’t have to shift to On demand, it is currently, and will likely remain an inefficient way to distribute video, and there is nothing the matter with sitting down to watch your favorite show at a pre-determined time, it’s just about scheduling.