With NextGuide, Dijit Continues the Search for the Perfect TV App

9/10/12Follow @wroush

There’s one thing everybody in the media, mobile, and software world seems to agree on: tablets and television were made for each other. Even more than a laptop, a tablet such as an iPad or Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HD is great for discovering TV shows, movies, and Internet videos that you might enjoy watching. But no one, not even Apple, has figured out exactly how the two types of devices should relate to one another. For better or worse, we’re still in a period of broad experimentation in video discovery.

That’s certainly the case at Dijit Media, which rolled out an iPad and Android app called the Dijit Universal Remote in January. In conjunction with a wireless device from Griffin Technology called the Beacon, the Dijit app lets you use your tablet to scan channel listings from your cable operator, then tune your TV to any program in your lineup, directly from the app.

The universal-remote app has gained a respectable following—it has more than 100,000 users, according to Dijit CEO Jeremy Toeman, a consumer electronics veteran who’s best known as the developer of the Slingbox. But less than 10 months after its release, Dijit is shifting its emphasis to a completely new app called NextGuide. It debuted on Friday, and it abandons the remote-control functionality in favor of what Toeman calls “hyperpersonalization.”

The app represents an attempt to solve the content-overload problem that viewers face when they’re trying to pick a show not just from hundreds of cable channels, but from the hundreds of thousands of TV and movie viewing options available from on-demand services like Netflix. “There’s such an unfathomable amount of content that a grid organized by channel and time is not going to let you sort through it all,” Toeman says. “We realized that we needed to throw away the old conventions and completely rethink the concept.”

Show page from Dijit's NextGuide app - screen shot

From the "show page" in Dijit's NextGuide app, you can get episode information, see upcoming airtimes, and mark shows as favorites.

When you set up NextGuide for the first time, you tell it where you live and who your cable provider is. You specify which on-demand services you use (Netflix, iTunes, and Hulu Plus are the current choices), and connect it to your Facebook account, so the app can see which shows and movies you and your friends have Liked. Then the app matches up your interests with the shows available from your cable and video services and creates big, scrolling arrays of shows it thinks you’ll want to watch.

The app can also show you what your friends are watching, or set up special categories like “jazz” or “noir” or “crime drama” and see current picks in those genres. If you see a show that’s available for instant viewing on Hulu or Netflix or for purchase on iTunes, NextGuide will send you straight to the app so that you can watch on your iPad. If you want to watch a show on live TV, it will find local airtimes and channels, and then remind you about the show half an hour before it starts.

Toeman says the whole idea behind NextGuide is to get the extra piece of hardware (the Beacon) out of the way and reinvent the TV guide experience for tablets, using what the company learned about TV search from building and marketing the universal remote app.

Toeman was formerly chief product officer at the company, which has raised about $2 million from Alsop Louie, but last spring he replaced Dijit founder Maksim Ioffe as CEO. “In a lot of ways we are a new company,” he says. “Our first product does pretty well. We have over 100,000 users, the Griffin Beacon is well respected, and we have a lot of four-star reviews in the app stores. But we couldn’t see where the hockey-stick growth was going to come from. We decided to take the things we had learned from the 1.0 effort and build an experience where the overarching goal is that pretty much anyone with an iPad or iPhone can use it with no other hardware requirements.”

What’s most successful about NextGuide is the way it spreads big show-related photos across the screen in an easily scrollable way, mimicking design ideas popularized by other content-rich apps such as ShowYou, Flipboard, Pulse, and Pinterest. Clearly, NextGuide also draws inspiration from personalized news-aggregator apps such as Zite, which uses sophisticated algorithms to gauge the interestingness of incoming news articles to each user.

But in other ways, NextGuide itself is a 1.0 effort: it offers so many different ways to slice and dice show listings that it can be confusing at times, and it doesn’t yet connect with major sources of on-demand video such as Amazon Prime, or with Internet sources like YouTube and Vimeo. In comments to Toeman, I said I thought the app could use some work on the information architecture side, to make the sorting and browsing options even clearer. “We’ll constantly be working to improve the experience,” he responded. “I think you’re right that we can make everything a bit simpler.”

The Dijit universal remote app and the Beacon device are still available and the company has no plans to wind down those products, Toeman says. But the last six months at Dijit have been all about building the new app.

“Controlling a device in the home is a huge thing to own, but the reality is that controlling discovery is possibly an even bigger thing to own,” he says. “Of all the things I’ve built in my career, this is up on a par with Slingbox. I’m so proud of what we’ve done in a limited amount of time. This is a whole new paradigm, and for some people it will probably be a ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ moment. But hopefully other people will try it out and give it a shot.”

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

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