Interactive and enhanced TV services — a concept fueled by hype and promise in the early 2000s before flaming out as pay TV providers focused on video-on-demand — appears to be heating up again.
And instead of getting pushed forward by integrating apps into the set-top box that sync up with live TV, this time it’s smartphones and apps that appear to be stoking the flames.
With an eye on what’s next, TiVo chairman Tom Rogers and Cablevision Systems vice chairman Hank Ratner last week said they have led a $3.4 million series-A round for WinView, a company developing a free, ad-supported mobile app that lets users to win cash and other prizes by making situational predictions during live TV sporting events.
YOU MAKE THE CALL
During a football game those “propositions” could include calling the opening coin toss, predicting the outcomes of field goals and other individual plays, and wagering on whether a running back might fumble the ball during the current quarter.
Under WinView’s model, consumers would start a contest with a set number of points, wagering them against different propositions that carry specific odds. Players would win or lose points based on whether they’re right or wrong.
“It’s an incredibly skill-oriented game,” Rogers said, noting that WinView will also include a loyalty element that lets users “bank” their points toward future competitions.
WinView, which has raised $6.5 million so far, will use those fresh funds to complete development of the WinView Games app and launch it in time for the 2016 professional football season. It tested the app last season.
Rogers and Ratner, who now also serve as co-chairmen of the WinView board, come on board amid big changes at their respective companies. Rogers is the former CEO of TiVo, which is merging with Rovi. Cablevision Systems, Ratner’s company, is about to be acquired by Altice Group.
Rogers said he and Ratner, whose 30- year business relationship dates back to when Rogers was an executive at NBC, had been discussing new ventures that they both might find interesting and the WinView opportunity “came to the top of the pile.”
Both were involved with WinView founder and CEO Dave Lockton when he headed a company called Interactive Network, which pioneered the notion of a service that enabled viewers to play along with live sports telecasts. “We thought at the time that having a tangible way to express that competition and give people all kinds of ways of creating tournaments and awarding prizes would be a great idea,” Rogers said.
The problem was that the service required a separate $190 terminal and other costs required to build an interactive service that synced with TV content in real time. “It was not economic, and the venture went away,” Rogers said.
But Lockton kept at it, building intellectual property and filing patents that protect how second-screen services can work in concert with live television. QB1, a service similar to WinView from NTN Buzztime, operated with a license for Lockton’s patents and was essentially the “bar implementation” of that technology, Rogers said.
Now, thanks to smartphones and apps, Rogers and Ratner believe the concept is more practical and poised to go mainstream.
WinView’s upside, Ratner said, is that sports remains one of the hottest content categories for TV at the same time that consumer interest in gaming shows no signs of abating.
“You can mix the two together and people with their own smartphone and a free download can have access to enhancing the total sports experience in ways not done before,” Ratner said. “This is so responsive to today’s world and what advertisers are looking for in order to deliver to their demographic and the people they want to reach.”
WinView will initially focus on pro football games, but plans to expand into other sports.
BETA WAS POPULAR
The company tested the service on the iOS platform (an Android version is in the works) during the past NFL season under an open beta program that quickly gathered about 1,000 participants without any marketing. This fall, it will feature an in-app texting capability that lets users invite friends to play.
Don’t expect WinView to integrate its service with set-top boxes anytime soon. Rogers said he had some discussion with a few “key cable operators” at last month’s INTX show in Boston, but both sides realized that the service will achieve scale more easily and rapidly by focusing on smartphones.