Palo Alto-based Boxfish, the second-screen TV guide that squarely aims at news junkies and sports fans, landed on Android this week with an app that tells you exactly what everyone on TV is talking about at any given time. Boxfish monitors conversations on close to 1,000 U.S. channels in real-time and automatically analyzes key topics to make TV searchable — and all of that data could one day also power your DVR or even your cable box.
Boxfish first launched on iOS last August, and the company’s co-founder and CEO Eoin Dowling told me during an interview this week that a lot of his team’s work since has been spent on perfecting the identification of topics. The new Boxfish Android app automatically displays two hashtags with key topics per channel, and these get automatically updated as news anchors switch to the next topic or as a show goes into commercial break.
These topics are being identified through cluster analysis, Dowling explained. That means Boxfish doesn’t query Wikipedia or any other dictionary source to make sense of conversations, but instead gathers meaning from the context of which words are used. That’s a necessity to make sense of TV in real time, explained Dowling: “News doesn’t exist in dictionaries yet.”
The new Android app lets users check out the current topics on any given show, search for topics across all channels and set alerts for their favorite shows. It also allows users to control their DirecTV and Google TV set-top boxes, making it possible to to tune into a channel as soon as you discover that a certain keyword has been mentioned. It’s a bit less useful without that remote control capability, but still an interesting toy to play around with, especially if you’re a news junkie like me.
However, Dowling made it clear during our conversation that the app is just a first step for Boxfish. The company also built out an API to give others access to its real-time data, and is already in conversations with cable providers, CE companies and others to give them access to this data.
TV makers could for example use Boxfish’s real-time data to make viewing suggestions that are much more fine-tuned than simple show-based recommendations. Care only about a certain sports team? Then how about getting alerts whenever it is a major topic, no matter whether it’s on SportsCenter or the evening news?
Likewise, DVRs could become much better at serving the things you really want to watch, for example by letting you jump right to a news segment you care about, as opposed to making you sit or fast forward through an entire show in search for those 45 seconds you want to watch.
“I just want to see people use this to build a better TV,” said Dowling.
Boxfish’s team of 10 is backed by Deutsche Telekom’s T-Venture fund, which has invested a total of $5 million into the company.
Take a look a t a couple of screenshots of the app on my Nexus 7 below: