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News Corp-controlled pay-TV firm BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) is buying itself a foothold in the looming social TV field by acquiring 10 percent of the startup Zeebox for a sum that is “double-digit millions” in both pounds and dollars.
“This is 100 percent new funding,” CEO Ernesto Schmitt tells paidContent. “It’s a major deal. Sky consider social TV to be the biggest opportunity for innovation since Sky+ (PVR). Now we are launching in the U.S., Europe and Australia.”
Co-founder Anthony Rose tells paidContent: “The Sky deal is a significant new deal in addition to our previous $7 million funding, which this new deal dramatically exceeds.”
“As part of the deal, BSkyB’s advertising-sales house, Sky Media, will sell sponsorship and product placement opportunities around Zeebox’s ‘Zeetags’, accompanying text that highlights actors, characters and topics being shown on screen,” reports FT, which broke the news.
“The deal secures exclusive rights in the UK to integrate Zeebox’s technology into (BSkyB’s) own array of 20 mobile apps, while providing the London-based start-up with capital to expand internationally. Zeebox will first appear in the Sky+ app.”
Founded by former EMI executive Schmitt and former BBC online product leader Rose, Zeebox, which paidContent exclusively previewed in August and which launched in October, is a collection of technologies, currently available as iPad app, which let TV viewers watch and chat together, gives them contextual information about on-air material and, as a possible eventual business model, may let them buy products mentioned on screen.
Early in 2011, the project had been codenamed Tbone, but was renamed after raising nearly $7 million early in the summer. Albeit with a small audience, Zeebox has won admirers in a short space of time.
“Zeebox has attracted 250,000 users in eight weeks in the UK through word of mouth only,” Schmitt added. The space also includes social TV app peers like GetGlue and Miso but Zeebox eschews their “check-in” paradigm.
The company is currently pitching the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Arguably, Zeebox technology could gain a wider audience inside Sky’s own apps.
Other major Zeebox shareholders are not clear.