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Summary:

Second screen startup Peel is seeing its universal remote control hardware becoming a commodity — but doesn’t actually mind this all that much. The company is preparing for a post-hardware future with a new iOS app feature that allows real-time second screen engagement during American Idol.

Peel fruit

Second screen startup Peel is best known for its pear-shaped universal remote control, but the company is getting ready for a time where it won’t be selling any hardware anymore. The latest step towards this direction is a new version of its iOS app, which comes with a neat voting feature for American Idol that is only the first of a number of planned engagement platforms around competitive content from reality shows to sports to elections.

Peel’s new app is inviting you to press buttons labeled “Booo!” and “Cheer!” during any of the show’s performances. Viewers can also cheer or protest any of the judges and their comments, and Peel promises to aggregate the votes of their users in real time, offering an instantaneous take on who’s gonna make it into Idol’s next round. The direct engagement feature comes two months after Peel added social functionality to its app at CES.

Peel initially got a lot of press for its universal remote control, which combines an iPhone with a pear-shaped IR blaster capable of controlling devices like a cable box or a Roku. However, Peel’s VP of Marketing Scott Ellis told me during an in-person demo of the new app last week that the company has no illusions about the future of this market. “In the long term, control becomes a commodity,” he said.

Peel already took a step past its IR blaster with a partnership with Samsung, which has IR functionality built onto some of its Android tablets, and he’s sure that others will follow suit. However, he didn’t seem too worried about this. “If we don’t have to sell a consumer product … even better,” he told me.

Of course, Peel isn’t the only one who’s offering second screen engagement around competitive reality content. Social TV startup Miso added voting features to its mobile app a year ago, for example.

Still, Ellis said Peel has seen a lot of interest in the new feature, and there are plenty of possibilities to monetize real-time engagement during a TV show. Peel’s app doesn’t currently come with any ads, but TV networks could possibly partner with the company to serve ads on the second screen; or Peel could sell ads directly, making it possible to show Pepsi ads on the second screen while Idol promotes its long-time sponsor Coke.

Peel raised a Series B of $16.7 million last year. The company currently employs 28 people.

Check out some screenshots of the new Peel iOS app below:

 
  1. These guys are lost upstream without a paddle. Their hardware piece is seriously flawed (a “universal” remote without a learning function is destined to fail). At the same time, they aren’t a leader in the social space, either (a whopping 1,000 Facebook fans). A lot of money has gone into this, but they are in search of both a business model and an install base.

    Although it is true that low-end remote controls are a commodity business, the same is not true as you move up the food chain. I suppose you could say that the low end of any industry is commoditized, but this comment shows a complete lack of understanding of an industry where they purport to compete.

    The fact is that control is integration, and integration is hard. Within enterprise software, integration is one of the dominant market segments – tens of billions annually spread across companies like IBM, SAP, Microsoft, and Oracle, not to mention thousands of boutique consultancies. It’s laughable to say that if done correctly control will become a commodity, because it will never be so simple.

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