Forget social, forget check-ins, and don’t even think about TV shows on Netflix or Hulu: Boxfish’s new iPad app, which went live in the Apple App Store Tuesday, is taking a radically different approach to tell you what to watch. It’s squarely aiming at news junkies, sports fans and people obsessed with celebrity gossip – or anyone who wants to have fun flaking out in front of the TV.
Here is how it works: Boxfish takes the the closed captions from 3,600 cable and local broadcast stations all over the U.S. and indexes and analyses all this data in real time. The result is presented as a constantly updating stream of trends and topics – think Tweetdeck, but for live TV.
Boxfish presents updates from the world of sports, news, business and celebrity gossip by default as part of its live feed. It also surfaces trending topics, which at the time of writing included Paul Ryan, Medicare and Chad Johnson. Users can customize the app by adding their own favorite channels to take a quick glance at what’s being talked about on CNBC or ESPN at any given time. And the app can be synched with a TiVo or a DirecTV set-top box to help users change the channel every time they want to tune into a conversation. However, there’s no esy way to filter out channels that a subscriber doesn’t have access to.
Check out a few screenshots of the app, or continue reading below:
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Boxfish co-founder and CEO Eoin Dowling told me during a Skype chat Monday that his team initially set out to build a kind of Google for TV shows, allowing users to search for content through captions. But once it started testing its technology with users, it realized that the search engine analogy was all wrong: Early testers weren’t interested in complicated searches. “They were using TV as a live stream,” said Dowling. In other words: Less like Google, and more like Twitter.
I’ve had a chance to play with Boxfish a little bit over the last couple of hours, and gotta say that the app is definitely intriguing. Yes, it can seem a little bit overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to catch up on popular topics.
But the basic idea behind it is very clever: Dowling and his co-founder Kevin Burkitt told me that only about 60 percent of your average TV viewing time is spent on shows and movies you don’t want to miss. The other 40 percent is about tuning in, trying to catch up on news and just randomly flipping through channels, looking for something new. That’s the 40 percent Boxfish is after. “TV does a terrible job giving you new content,” said Burkitt.
So what’s next for Boxfish? The duo told me that it has an iPhone app more or less ready, but wants to collect feedback from iPad users first before releasing it. It also plans to release apps for Android and even smart TV platforms, but eventually wants to give others access to its treasure trove of indexed captions through an API as well. “It’s really interesting data – and there is only so much we can do with it,” said Downling.
Boxfish was founded in 2010 in London, and the founders moved to the Bay Area in 2011. The company raised a $3 million Series A round, which was led by T-Venture, and the team currently consists of 10 people.