Showtime Networks and consumer electronics manufacturer LG are launching the SHO Sync app on LG 2012 and 2013 smart TVs that will provide consumers with interactive features that are timed to the airing of Showtime series, such as Dexter and Ray Donovan.
Apps that synch up additional content on second screen smart phones or tablets to the live or on demand programming being watched on TV have become increasingly popular in recent years. Last October, Showtime launched the SHO Sync App for iPads.
But the two companies are billing the new app for the smart TVs as the "first in-program interactive experience for Smart TVs," explained David Preisman, VP of interactive television at Showtime Networks. "No other network is doing it."
The app relies on LG’s "LivePlus" technology, which allows the TV set to recognize what content is playing and display additional content tied to the show.
Like the iPad app, the SHO Sync app on LG offers special features, character backgrounds, trivia and polls at specific points in the episode.
Unlike other synch apps, it doesn’t require use of a separate smart phone or tablet and doesn’t require users to have downloaded and opened an app.
The app is already loaded on the TV and can be used with the remote. It works with live, DVR recorded shows, VOD and DVDs for shows that offer the additional features.
The app is also notable because it uses HTML5 and other standard web technologies, which greatly simplified the development process, Preisman says.
Preisman has been working on interactive technologies at Showtime since 1999 and offering those features on smart TVs has allowed the net to do many things it hasn’t been able to do before, given some of the difficulties of developing those applications for settop boxes.
The launch cuts against some of the perceived wisdom about what works best for interactive and second screen applications.
In the past, there have been a number of concerns raised about whether consumers would want additional interactive content on the screen while they watched dramas. As a result, developers have generally focused on creating synch apps for phones and tables.
Second screen sync apps for sports and reality programs have also generally proved more successful than scripted fare.
In developing the app, however, Showtime conducted research that revealed its subs were very interested in additional content.
"It is harder to figure out the right content for scripted programming but Showtime subscribers said they wanted to interact with their favorite shows and we decided to invest," as a way to improve the subscriber experience, Preisman says.
In doing so, however, the net was careful not to do anything that would interfere with the viewing experience and to create features that were consistent with the show.
Looking forward, Preisman said the network would be exploring the possibility of expanding the app to other smart TVs and devices.
"We want to have as wide a reach as possible," he said.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, James Fishler, senior VP of marketing at LG Electronics USA also highlighted the groundbreaking nature of the effort.
"While interactive TV has been previously done in many forms, this is the first time that standards such as HTLM5 have been used, enabling high-quality graphics using standard authoring tools," he claimed. "With SHO Sync, Showtime Networks has developed a sophisticated app that maximizes what is possible with high end, premium interactive experiences."