Zeebox, formerly known as tBone, plans to provide the perfect platform for connected television, making it a social and interactive viewing experience. We may have heard this many times before, but that is the bold ambition of the founders of Zeebox. Ernesto Schmitt and Anthony Rose aim to revolutionise television, initially with an app for the Apple iPad that shows what friends of Facebook and Twitter are watching and displays tags related to what is happening on screen. As yet there is no proposed business model, but they clearly believe there is value in people interacting with television programmes.
“We’re building a system that will spider live TV, mash it with social context and open data sources, then provide it through open APIs for mobile/web developers to create killer TV experiences,” says the holding page on the Zeebox web site. “We want to bring 2.0 to the only one-way device now left in your household — the TV, making it a seamless two-way social and interactive viewing experience.”
If it sounds like a parody of a pitch to venture capitalists it is because Zeebox is aiming to become the Facebook of television. So far the founders say they have raised around £3 million to fund the launch.
Chief executive Ernesto Schmitt previously founded Peoplesound, an early online music business featuring unsigned artists. He went on to work at EMI and returned there, by way of Tesco and Dixons, to lead global marketing.
Co-founder Anthony Rose was once chief technology at Altnet, which was associated with the file sharing network Kazaa, before joining the BBC, where he played a lead role in the successful relaunch of the BBC iPlayer. He went on to become chief technology officer of Project Canvas, which became YouView, but left at the end of 2010 with the platform yet to launch.
He appears to have attracted a number of former colleagues from the BBC and YouView to work with him on this new venture, which started out as a stealth project under the name tBone TV, as previously reported by informitv.
Further details have now emerged, as the platform prepares for launch. Zeebox will apparently offer links or “info tags” related to topics or people as they appear on screen, based on automatic analysis of programme metadata and content recognition. One of the suggested applications is for commerce, to allow viewers to buy things related to what they see on screen. It sounds rather like being able to buy Jennifer Aniston’s jumper, which is a concept that has been around since people first watched Friends back in the nineties.
There is also the idea that users will be able to watch live tweet streams, or engage with broadcaster created widgets for particular programmes. Anthony Rose is particularly dismissive of current interactive television applications and talks of providing “a next-generation red button toolset that allows people to author things for an IP age”. That also remains an ambition for YouView and the European HbbTV standard with which it will attempt to compete.
At a basic level, Zeebox users will be able to “check-in” to programmes on the iPad application, but its founders have a profound dislike of such gamification inspired by Foursquare and television derivatives like GetGlue. There are plans to automate the connection with audio fingerprint detection, rather like Yahoo! IntoNow, while applications running on connected televisions will already know what the viewer is watching.
An open application programming interface is proposed, to enable developers to create their own applications, which is also an aspiration of YouView, although it has yet to publish its interfaces. Nevertheless, its former chief technology officer seems to think YouView will provide a suitable platform for Zeebox. The obvious question is that if the solution proposed by Zeebox is the answer to the opportunity of connected television, why was that not apparent to the team at YouView?
Anthony Rose argues that while YouView seeks to be a programming platform, Zeebox is a social proposition based on real-time data, so the two are actually complementary.
Zeebox claims to be working with major British broadcasters and global consumer electronics companies to develop its platform. Demonstrations have been shown on Samsung Smart TVs.
The company seems rather focussed on the British market at the moment. Its founders may be too quick to dismiss initiatives from the likes of multinational companies like Apple and Google, but as Facebook and Twitter have demonstrated, competition can come from anywhere.
It is still not entirely clear what Zeebox is, and whether its founders are really onto something or simply high on hype. If it can succeed in applying approaches from the internet to connected television then it could be significant.